OK. So you are a kid, and your parents may not be able to afford all the dance lessons and voice lessons and drama camps, coaching and whatnot that can help you tremendously. Or, you are a young adult trying to pay the bills and/or go to school, and there is just nothing left over for silly things like training in your craft. That’s OK. You can still get what you need, or at least a few things here and there. You don’t need to be rich, just creative. Think way, way outside the box.

The barter system is alive and well in the arts community, and you just have to be selective and honest in your use of it. Here are several ways to do this:

  1. Remember the truth that Time Is Money, and can often be used as such. Arts educators never have enough of either, so if you can provide one of the two, you are likely to get what you need. Offer to do any of the following in exchange for private lessons or coaching:
  • Babysitting
  • Housecleaning/laundry
  • Personal errands (picking up/dropping off children or dry cleaning, banking, grocery shopping, etc.)
  • Cooking
  • Assistance with teaching classes

2. The same adage is true for theatre companies with education programs. If they do not have a scholarship program that you are eligible for, offer your services in exchange for taking classes. The needs of a company are more specific, and they may have certain policies in place that could limit your options. However, it never hurts to ask, and just the fact that you do ask makes you valuable to that company instantly.  Any of the following that you have skills in:

  • Box office help
  • Set construction/painting
  • Costume stitching/wardrobe organization
  • Assistant teaching
  • Backstage Crew
  • Assistant Stage Management
  • General Administrative Office help
  • Janitorial/maintenance work

3. Find arts community memberships. There are many larger cities that have some kind of a membership program that allow, for a yearly fee, access to audition notices, special events, and other perks, including discounts on valuable workshops and classes and sometimes even free members-only workshops. An example is Theatre Puget Sound  (www.tpsonline.org) in Seattle.

4. Dance studios often would love to have someone clean their space on a regular basis but can’t afford it, so if you are able to do this you can often barter a regular gig for regular classes. It would include things like caring for the special marley floor, cleaning the mirrors, cleaning the restrooms, taking out the trash etc. They are going to teach their classes whether you are cleaning up or not, so they lose absolutely nothing by letting you clean in exchange for lessons. Win-win. Depending on your age, they may have insurance requirements that would say that they can’t risk your safety that way, but it never, ever hurts to ask.

So here’s the take-away: There is Always A Way To Get What You Need. In the arts, we have all learned how to survive on very little in the way of actual funds, and to depend on one another as human resources in the truest sense of the phrase. So use what you have to get what you need. Money is not the only form of payment; and honestly, the people that you work for in exchange for education will see your dedication and your personality much more than that of those who just come/pay/leave. That can translate into casting and internships and jobs down the road. You are not only building your skills, you are building your reputation, which is more valuable than just about anything. More on that later. 🙂



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