I am going to use a word in my response that is very loaded. I think you are truly coming at this from an “amateur” point of view. And I mean that in the sense of doing it out of love – and no so much for doing it for a living.
You do have a lot of investigation to do in to what it is to do this as a job – and the various AEA contracts – that will answer the more concrete questions about breaks, overtime, and so forth.
What I love about your posts, and it’s even here in this post, is the true and genuine love you have for theatre – and you are worried about AEA Work Rules will get in the way of people doing what they need to do to pull together and do a show. But, that really only works if people are doing a show just for the love it – like a lot of amateur theatre.
But, here’s the thing in the arts and entertainment industry – this is my job. This is how I pay my rent, pay my child support, pay off my student loans, put away money for retirement. Even after 25 years in this field, I am not able to pick and choose shows just because I love them, I need to keep working to make money. And because it’s a work environment, the work rules need to be put in place. There are producers and general managers I have worked in with my past, who have taken advantage of my love of theatre to get out of overtime, make me work 16 hour days, etc, etc – to save them money – and they have made money on the back of my hard work.
Look there are ways around a lot of rules you talk about? Want to work Community Theater - you can discuss with AEA being a guest artist. Want to work for less than salary, you could always donate a portion of your weekly salary back to the organization.
Union employment is not for everyone – I don’t think anyone should join as an AEA SM until after college, and after they get a sense of the what the job is in the big picture (the job changes focus as you move out of community theatre or educational theatre . . . and requires a lot more leadership then you may have had in the past, and is a strong combination of technical, artistic and administrative skills). If you are interested in community theatre and the magic that happens there – then perhaps you should find a career that would allow you to pay your bills, and then continue to work community theatre. There is nothing wrong with doing this for the love of it. Just because you like stage management, doesn’t mean you need to do it for a living (I always use the . . . “I like video games, but I am not sure I want to do it for a living”). In the end, here’s the secret, I loved this job at one point, but doing it for a living, and HAVE to manage both the job and the career is the quickest way to beat that love out my life. I am still very passionate about it, and a huge advocate it – but it’s not a blind infatuation.
I wish every show was special. I wish everything was magical. I was every project I did was because of love. But at the end of the day, it’s a job. A job I have to do, a career I have to drive.
I have said it many times before, becoming an AEA stage manager is running your own business. You wouldn’t open up a restaurant without knowing the health department rules and the labor laws for you state, right? And you wouldn’t run a restaurant trying to figure out ways around those laws, right? That’s a bit about what being an AEA stage manager is – you have to enforce those rules that you are responsible for enforcing. (Now, you will learn tricks about not breaking up the forward movement – by finding the natural breaks . . . maybe you take a ten after 65 minutes, before you start the next scene . . . so you don’t have to break in the middle.)
You are in high school – please, take some time and have fun, explore other options. Stage Management in the professional world is crap job, middle management at best, often the scape goat, and putting in long, arduous hours. Make sure you know what you want out of life – before you commit to a career that may dictate things like where you have to live, where you have to work, hours you have to work, the lifestyle you will have support.
There are entire areas of theatre you might not have been exposed to – company management, production management., general management, producing, devo, arts administration, theater education, audience development, outreach, etc, etc . . . these are things that often are just not in the curriculum until later down the career path – or you get exposed to them as you work professionally in the career.
Maribeth I think answered some more of your specific questions – I am sorry I gave more “fatherly” advice, but I just want to make sure you get a different picture. Not every theater project is one about love – it’s often about money.
So, when do you join AEA - when you are ready to make the commitment, and understand what the career is a job. And remember, once you join, there is no beginner AEA status, you are competing with LOA-STC ASMs all the way to Broadway PSMs. AEA Stage Managers are AEA Stage Managers (and to make things even more complicated, AEA members are AEA members, so sometimes you are competing with Actors who dabble in it.) You have to understand how you fit in the market you are trying to enter, if it's worth the financial investment you are willing to make. And if you are in for the long term . . . sometimes career take off like a rocket, sometimes the simmer . . . they are almost always a non-direct path.
And often the choice of joining or not becomes painfully obvious.
Check out this linkhttp://smnetwork.org/forum/the-hardline/how-did-you-get-your-card/msg28102/#msg28102