The post is in the context of performance as entertainment and not art. Debates on the differences can be had another time, if you like.
*This is aimed at the London cabaret scene but it may well apply to other markets. I used to perform fairly regularly on the circuit in question. The following debate goes round and around in many different scenarios and places of work.*
Performers complaining about being undercut by (in their judgement) newbies who are naive and ruining the market by being happy to work for peanuts, undercutting the established market.
Employers take advantage of newcomers and lower their overall fees, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to fill these less lucrative spots.
Some complaining comes from performers who seem to have goldfish-like memories, forgetting that they were indeed the very newbies who were undercutting the established professionals only a heartbeat ago- and at the same time overlooking the fact that when starting out it is unreasonable to ask the same fee as an established competitor.
Being offered a fee lower than you are used to is rarely intended as insult- if that’s the best insult they could come up with then I’d love to see how generous a compliment is! Therefore taking offence at a monetary business transaction is an odd way to respond.
In a market with many privately acting 3rd parties, with free movement of labour and relatively high (globally speaking) fees it is all but impossible that a union could bring about price fixing.
Look at how the music industry collapsed in on itself, pretty much overnight, thanks to digital music distribution and media. This could give you perspective on how stable the cabaret circuit currently is. There is no obvious great innovation waiting in the wings about to topple careers. Charging less money is hardly an innovative or particularly sustainable business practice. Probably the biggest threat to your long term income is changing public behaviours (remember when seeing a burlesque show was not on the list of stuff to do on a Friday night?) or the acts on offer becoming stale/mundane.
So what are the options? Are there solutions?
It’s pretty straight forward economics, supply and demand. It’s no different from any other market; if you are competing in a crowded market then your margin will go down and your quality must go up.
If you want to be paid well, you need to be unique. Simply put, you need to be in demand.
That may sound contrite but I think it’s at the heart of the problem. You have very little chance of controlling what others can/should charge, very little chance of convincing venues/promotors to not book cheaper acts which to them are comparable to you.
If you can prove your worth then you have a great chance of keeping/increasing your fee. Prove your worth in any way you can; if that’s professionalism, quality of your costume, talking up your rockstar status or convincing them you are the second coming of Jesus. Or you could up your game and make better stuff that’s worth paying more for.
Your other option is to challenge the notion of markets, to bring about social and political reform on a very large scale but that debate is probably best discussed at other places on the internet.
Also worth reading on similar topics:
And an interesting counterpoint