The Gig Economy


“By 2020, it is forecast that contingent workers will exceed 40 per cent of the US workforce. Freelance work arrangements have long been common in writing, consulting, design and skilled trades but have now moved into a broader range of occupations and industries. Many workers (particularly those of Generation Y) are disenchanted with their 9 to 5 routine and have an increasing need for flexible and diversified work. Others, unable to secure employment in the challenging labour market, have turned to freelancing out of necessity. Whatever the motivation for freelancing is, it is indisputable that this mode of work is rapidly growing alongside the emergence of digital freelance marketplaces. Individuals are increasingly shaping their careers with these avenues by working on a task-by-task basis for different employers concurrently.” ]The Emergence of the Gig Economy (2016)

Theatre entrepreneurs built a global theatre industry in which pantomime productions employed up to 350 people per production, including many children. From the ‘jobbing’ actor, who travelled the circuits in which pantomimes were staged internationally, to the newspaper and transport industries that help ‘sell’ the shows to mass audiences, the panto mega-productions brought work to hundreds of thousands of people.

Exploitation and abuse were also present in the theatres.  To counter bad practices, we see the emergence of Child Labour Laws and Arbitration Courts in which Musicians’ and Actors’ Unions fight for fair wages and working conditions. These crucial happenings have been responsible for the evolution of what we understand as the Creative and Cultural Industries today.

Through the Know Nonsense Comedy Projects, students are given a chance to tap into the 200 hundred years of practical experiences of a gig economy available to them through the history of CCIs. They critically understand what it means to work in a deregulated economy, brought about by digital disruption.[/vc_hoverbox][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

Entrepreneurship is a cultural value.

Projects interactively compare past cultural ideologies and technologies with contemporary ones. Students learning that entrepreneurship was never ‘value-free’ or deserving of unquestioned imitation. As the historical evidence suggests, entrepreneurs were not successful because they offered a ‘sure thing’. Rather, they set up a productive ‘ecosystem’ in which they were able to explore different possibilities more successfully than their competitors.

It is in this sense that they benefited from the creativity and flexibility of the theatre’s ‘gig economy’ of short-term contracts and seasonal work.

The right to work – the right to influence work conditions.

To understand the benefits, it is useful for students to see the link in English theatre to the practice of legitimate and illegitimate theatre shaping the professionalisation of theatre work. Brought about by the closing of theatres by Puritans during the English Civil War (1642 – 51), the link between what plays were staged, who worked in the theatre and which ones were censored by the Lord Chamberlain was not resolved until the abolition of theatre licences in 1843. The abolition of theatre censorship did not occur until 1968. So, theatre entrepreneurship importantly gives students opportunities to deal with questions of censorship, libel, slander, Intellectual Property and the vital issue of copyright.

The level of uncertainty continues even today for managers, directors, designers, actors, musicians, dancers who make ends meet gig-by-gig. Alternatively, it is still common that they sidestep working in CCIs by working in education, journalism or some other more ‘permanent’ job. The artist’s ‘portfolio career’, for instance, can be made up of a combination of projects within their art form, in education, and in hospitality!

Theatre industries offer insights for working within today’s ‘gig economy’.

According to David Throsby in Economics & Culture (2001), prior to the interest in the ‘gig economy’ brought about by digital disruption, its domination of the creative industries was treated with a general disinterested by economists, other than perhaps seeing ‘the concept of creativity as a dynamic force in human behaviour”. This is changing as economists place the idea of ‘cultural value’ into economics as part of “the generator of innovation and hence the precursor of technological change”. [efn_note]Throsby, David. 2001 Economics & Culture p. 93.[/efn_note]

In his 2017 report Making Art Work for the Australia Council, Professor Throsby poses crucial questions about working in the gig economy of today’s creative industries when he highlights a number of challenges and opportunities faced by professional artists:

  • How can artists balance creative work with earning a living?
  • How is societal and technological change impacting Australian artists and their work?
  • How are artistic skills, capabilities and ways of working aligned with future workforce needs?
  • How can professional artists be supported, protected and remunerated into the future?”

Removing references to artists, these questions are also important considerations facing any young person managing the uncertainty of working on short-term contracts in a digital age.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email