Former SLEEP NO MORE Unpaid Interns Speak Out

Liza's Headband
Broadway Legend
joined:5/28/13
If you care about the burgeoning unpaid-internship movement, here’s something that may keep you up at night: Interns for the wildly popular interactive show “Sleep No More” do a lot of grunt work for little educational benefit and no pay, according to people familiar the show.

Former interns who worked for the site-specific megahit in New York City describe a cyclical labor mill of unpaid interns training new interns and juggling backstage tasks that were once performed by paid staff -- aggressive violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The immersive riff on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which has been playing to intermittently sold-out crowds for more than two years, lures in new interns with the promise of a so-called unique learning experience and "privilege" of being part of a huge word-of-mouth hit. But instead they are asked to perform the tasks of professional production assistants who would be well-compensated in the real world, according to people who worked for the show.

On Tuesday, International Business Times reported on a “Sleep No More” internship posting that appeared to openly flout labor laws by explaining that interns would be required to work full-time hours and even help “supervise and ensure safety of both the performers and audience.” Since the article appeared, former “Sleep No More” interns and backstage helpers contacted IBTimes to say that they believe the show’s stage-management internship program fosters a pattern of habitual labor and wage violations.


Former ‘Sleep No More’ Interns Say Immersive NYC Megahit Offers Little Educational Benefit
Brian07663NJ
Broadway Legend
joined:6/21/06
Thanks for posting the article. I used to have this argument with my former employer ALL the time. Internships are for the benefit of the intern and not the employer! Interns are not free labor!
Up next: Apr 01 Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Apr 05 Charo at RamsHead OnStage; Apr 07 Lady Gaga at Roseland Ballroom; Apr 13 Amaluna next to Citi Field; Apr 18 Disney Junior at MSG Theatre; May 06 Aladdin; May 13 Artpop Ball Lady Gaga at MSG; Jun 07 Varekai in Bridgeport, CT Jul 12 1:30pm Side Show; Jul 12 8:30pm Fantasia w/National Symphony Orchestra; Aug 16 The Visit: Williamstown Festival
Jordan Catalano
Broadway Legend
joined:10/9/05
This country SERIOUSLY needs to figure this sh*t out ASAP. Nobody has ever been able to explain to me why an unpaid internship is anything other than free labor which, for some reason, when labeled correctly is 100% legal.
Brian07663NJ
Broadway Legend
joined:6/21/06
The simple answer is...

Internship can be unpaid IF it benefits the intern and is a burden to the employer. Meaning...the employer is slowing down his operation to teach tasks. The intern can learn how to do the task. Once the intern knows how to do it IF they were to continue to do that task it becomes a job which needs to be paid. If the intern does menial tasks (eg runs for coffee, copies papers, data entry) then that is a job to be paid and not a learning situation.
Up next: Apr 01 Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Apr 05 Charo at RamsHead OnStage; Apr 07 Lady Gaga at Roseland Ballroom; Apr 13 Amaluna next to Citi Field; Apr 18 Disney Junior at MSG Theatre; May 06 Aladdin; May 13 Artpop Ball Lady Gaga at MSG; Jun 07 Varekai in Bridgeport, CT Jul 12 1:30pm Side Show; Jul 12 8:30pm Fantasia w/National Symphony Orchestra; Aug 16 The Visit: Williamstown Festival
adam.peterson44
Broadway Star
joined:9/7/11
The article ends with the person who did the most complaining acknowledging that he did find the internship to be a valuable learning experience and that he was glad he did it - which completely discredits the claim that the internships had no educational value.

It is crazy for people to accept a trade of unpaid labor for unpaid (no tuition) education/training/contacts and then complain later that they should have been paid a salary in money, without acknowledging that then they should have been paying tuition in money also.

If interns don't find the trade of labor-for-learning-and-contacts to be in their favor, it is simple enough not to accept the offer and to accept only paid work. Even if they don't find paid work as quickly, accepting unpaid work-for-training leaves them unavailable to keep looking for paid work and therefore they shouldn't do that unless they see some value in the training and contacts and experience that they get from the internship, which obviously they do since people keep accepting unpaid internships as a step up the career ladder.

Introductions can also lead to future paid work opportunities, as well. Lots of us started as willing interns, knowing that it was an investment in our careers. I would hate to see that valuable option taken away from future generations because some people who find it valuable for themselves then think it is okay to try to complain and change the deal that they originally agreed to in the hope of squeezing more benefit out of the situation. If no one found those trades valuable, there would be no interns. No one is being coerced to accept an internship offer, so obviously people see the value in being exposed to industry contacts and learning the business by doing, tuition-free.
theatregoer3
Chorus Member
joined:3/8/13
"Internship can be unpaid IF it benefits the intern and is a burden to the employer."

I disagree with this statement. An intern does not and should not be a burden to the employer. That would defeat the purpose of internships.

I believe internships should be viewed as apprenticeships. In some cases they can lead to employment. If not employment, a more substantial resume and potentially a greater understanding of the work environment.

The company I work for has many unpaid interns. All of our interns do sign an internship agreement on their first day. This agreement outlines the nature of their relationship to the company, their role in the day-to-day tasks and the laws our company must follow to legally claim that this is not simply free labor.

About 35% of our interns get hired and become full-time staff. Some are let go and others move on to paid positions at other companies. I'd say that about 85% of our interns would claim their experience at our company was invaluable and helped them get a leg up on the competition.

Perhaps "Sleep No More" has done something wrong. (The idea of an intern supervising anything related to safety is bizarre to me.) Even if this is true, it's still not a reason to disregard internships entirely.
dramamama611
Broadway Legend
joined:12/4/07
I fully disagree. Of COURSE places will find people willing to "work" for free, thereby saving them money. Just like people willing to work for less then minimum wage, or work under the table.

I'm not sure is anyone should have to "intern" after college, but perhaps, specific guidelines needs to be established. Of course, people then complain that the government has stepped beyond their boundaries.

To which I say: if people just treated people fairly, we really wouldn't need the government at all.
If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
"I'd say that about 85% of our interns would claim their experience at our company was invaluable and helped them get a leg up on the competition."

I'd say they already have a leg up on the competition because being able to afford an unpaid internship in New York City means they have the private means to do so.

And companies that rely on unpaid internships as a prerequisite to employment are setting up a barrier that only the children of the wealthy can pass through.

"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Updated On: 12/11/13 at 06:03 PM
FindingNamo
Broadway Legend
joined:7/22/03
You guys, you realize there's a Mr and Mrs Diane Paulus connection to SNM, right? Maybe someday somebody will be brave enough to go on the record about what it has been like to study and work at the American Repertory Theater Institute since the Paulus Era. When Paulus first came to Cambridge there was so much talk about artistry and community dialogue and blah blah blah. At this point, the coat check people at the former Zero Arrow Theater (I'm against calling it Club Oberon since I heard Paulus's husband gets royalties for that name) where The Donkey Show is still limping along (royalties!) the coat check people are paid more than the cast members. If a cast member has the temerity to mention this, they are encouraged to become coat check people. They're getting paid "in experience". But you didn't hear it from me.
'Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.' -- RW Emerson
Theater'sBestFriend
Featured Actor
joined:3/5/13
"Internship can be unpaid IF it benefits the intern and is a burden to the employer."

Huh? According to whom? It sounds like you're describing entitlement rather than internship.

I thought an intern is someone working voluntarily in a field with which they lack sufficient experience or skills to get a regular paid job, and who agree to work while learning for the sake of acquiring them. That's always going to require extra supervision and training, which is a burden. Why on earth would anyone expect an employer to take an intern on if it's of no benefit, only a burden to them? Why can't it be of mutual benefit? Isn't one of the main benefits of internship new access to a field of interest for the inexperienced? Aren't people allowed to volunteer?





Updated On: 12/11/13 at 09:31 PM
Theater'sBestFriend
Featured Actor
joined:3/5/13
"Being able to afford an unpaid internship in New York City means they have the private means to do so."

Or maybe that they're hard-working and have another job.

Updated On: 12/11/13 at 09:54 PM
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
"Or maybe that they're hard-working and have another job."

Right, and the kids who are working unpaid internships at SLEEP NO MORE are what, lazy?

"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Theater'sBestFriend
Featured Actor
joined:3/5/13
Of course not - I never remotely said they're lazy. I don't know how you got that. I merely pointed out they might not be privileged, as the quoted post seemed to imply.
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
"I merely pointed out they might not be privileged, as the quoted post seemed to imply."

Theater'sBestFriend, read the original article posted. These responses are beginning to be about responses.

There's no "entitlement". There are Federal Guidelines for unpaid internships and the crux of those guidelines have to do with an educational experience. If that educational experience crosses the line into an entry level job without pay or worse exploitation then the company is vulnerable to legal action.

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm

Recently there's been a number of legal victories for unpaid interns as well as disasters... a New York district court ruled that it's perfectly legal to sexually harass unpaid interns since they're not employees.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/09/unpaid-intern-sexual-harassment/2953595/

But I think the tide is turning against unpaid internships in both for-profit and non-profit organizations.
"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Theater'sBestFriend
Featured Actor
joined:3/5/13
I don't know what your responses are to; they don't make sense to me. Mine were to the two lines in the thread that I quoted. One said that employers mustn't benefit from having an intern; I pointed out that that sounded like entitlement, and requested clarification (which I haven't yet seen). The other was to the sweeping assertion that unpaid interns in NY are supported by private means. I defended the reputation of interns by pointing out they might not all be so privileged.

I'm sorry that you seem to be having difficulty following what I'm saying. I'm having great difficulty following you.
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
" The other was to the sweeping assertion that unpaid interns in NY are supported by private means. I defended the reputation of interns by pointing out they might not all be so privileged. "

Do you live in the nyc area? Do you know how much rent here is? Do you know how much an entry level job pays? If you do, then do the math and ask yourself if you could afford an unpaid internship even while holding down another entry level job. It used to be possible. Not any more without some kind of financial cushion. That's why unpaid internships, particularly when they are an entry way towards a paid position favor young people with private means and are out of reach of those without them, particularly in this city.

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/the-unpaid-internship-racket
"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Kad
Broadway Legend
joined:11/5/05
Many theatrical internships- for high-profile casting, management, and theatre companies- are full-time. Or very close to it. They pay in weekly or monthly stipends just large enough, perhaps, to cover travel expenses.

There is very difficult for an intern in those positions to survive without private means.

And since most of these internships are done during the day, several days a week, it's very difficult for an intern to find jobs that can accommodate the hours AND support them. Especially in this job market.

It's not a question of whether or not they are hardworking. How can young people freshly out of school and usually loaded with debt be expected to take positions that pay only in "experience"?

What the hell was college for, then? It's four years being immersed in a field. But a generation of college grads have been coerced into thinking that they need "experience" which can only be had by a post-educational internship into order to get a job.

Now, of course small nonprofits can't be expected to survive without some volunteer work. But I'm talking large, moneyed companies here.
Brian07663NJ
Broadway Legend
joined:6/21/06
Here are the six factors considered by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Walling v. Portland Terminal Co:
1.The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
2.The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
3.The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
4.The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
5.The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
6.The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Regarding my previous comment about an internship possibly being a burden on the employer reference point 4 above.
Forbes article of April 19, 2013
Up next: Apr 01 Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Apr 05 Charo at RamsHead OnStage; Apr 07 Lady Gaga at Roseland Ballroom; Apr 13 Amaluna next to Citi Field; Apr 18 Disney Junior at MSG Theatre; May 06 Aladdin; May 13 Artpop Ball Lady Gaga at MSG; Jun 07 Varekai in Bridgeport, CT Jul 12 1:30pm Side Show; Jul 12 8:30pm Fantasia w/National Symphony Orchestra; Aug 16 The Visit: Williamstown Festival
theatregoer3
Chorus Member
joined:3/8/13
"I'd say they already have a leg up on the competition because being able to afford an unpaid internship in New York City means they have the private means to do so.

And companies that rely on unpaid internships as a prerequisite to employment are setting up a barrier that only the children of the wealthy can pass through."

Probably half of our interns are being supported by their parents. The other half support themselves. How? I have no idea, but they do. Some of them do have part-time, paid jobs elsewhere. Our interns are also extremely diverse.

On a personal note, I saved a fair amount of money before moving to New York. I didn't want to worry about getting a job right away. I landed an unpaid internship at a high profile company. I worked very hard and went above and beyond my responsibilities. I was hired on as a paid staff member two weeks into my internship because I had quickly made myself invaluable to the company. I ended up working for them for four years. I travelled halfway around the world while employed at that company, worked in the Middle East, met some amazing people and had an incredible time.

That internship was exactly what I needed to do to get my foot in the door. I had no experience so my resume could not properly reflect my drive, dedication or even my abilities. I needed to show them what I was capable of. In addition to being an educational experience, I think that's what an internship is for.

In hindsight, I wish I hadn't gone to college. No one cares what school you went to. I never pay attention to education when I look at someone's resume. I only look at work experience. College may be useful to some professions but a waste of time for others.

Finally, I do understand that there are many bad people out there and I don't want to let my experience water down a potentially toxic experience that needs exposure. I know there are interns out there who are being abused by the system. I hear about it a lot. I wish everyone involved in this "Sleep No More" issue the best.
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
"Probably half of our interns are being supported by their parents. The other half support themselves."

Who is us?

"Our interns are also extremely diverse."

Visually diverse or economically diverse? You can be a relatively well off person of color, LGBT, foreign national etc. Diversity is a wonderful buzz word which conveniently sidesteps economic need.
"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Updated On: 12/12/13 at 11:00 AM
newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
I thought all internships were unpaid until about 10 years ago. Back in the 70s and 80s every theatre internship (like the coveted Actors Theatre of Louisville gig) was certainly unpaid. I specifically remember this because like most people I knew, I couldn't afford to do one, although I would have liked to. I did know some theatre grads who came from families of a certain income level who did do them.

I think you'll find that, for people 40 and over, the idea of the unpaid internship is hardly cruel or unusual. It's a trade - experience for sacrifice.

I think that this demand to be paid to learn must have originated with the entitled generation.


Why Generation Y is Unhappy
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
"I think that this demand to be paid to learn must have originated with the entitled generation."

Hah! No, it originated with the Obama labor dept. guidelines in 2010.

But if you want to think that the entire generation of young people who are unemployed in the U.S. at something like 12% are "entitled" for asking for jobs that pay even in sought after glamorous professions then that's your problem.

"Back in the 70s and 80s every theatre internship (like the coveted Actors Theatre of Louisville gig) was certainly unpaid."

The difference is that since then unpaid internships as a replacement for jobs that were once filled by full time paid employees has skyrocketed. That's been the case in both nonprofit and for profit organizations.
"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Updated On: 12/12/13 at 11:27 AM
newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
Take a moment to read the linked article; I didn't make up the idea that Generation Y feels unrealistically entitled. (I think the idea that anyone is owed a well-paid job in a glamorous profession reflects an unrealistically entitle world view, actually, yes, I think I do.)

And despite what it seems you're suggesting, unpaid internships, whether you like them or not, are perfectly legal. As noted, it's a trade - experience (and connections) for sacrifice.

And everyone is free to choose whether to do one or not.



Updated On: 12/12/13 at 11:31 AM
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
Yes, I read it. I don't think there's a correlation between a pop sociology caricature of Generation Y and a very real issue about jobs for young people. It's a problem in nearly every Western country at the moment. In some Western countries the youth unemployment is something like 56%.

"I think the idea that anyone is owed a well-paid job in a glamorous profession reflects an unrealistically entitle world view, actually, yes, I think I do.)"

No one's owed anything. You're taking a conversation about ethics, a labor dept. guideline and a fight for paid work and turning it into a thesis on entitlement with no proof, no links... just a notion.

"And despite what it seems you're suggesting, unpaid internships, whether you like them or not, are perfectly legal. As noted, it's a trade - experience (and connections) for sacrifice."

It's not a matter of whether I like it or not. There's been precedent setting legal cases fought and won over unpaid internships since the Obama labor dept. guideline have been put into place. I linked them in this thread and another poster cut and pasted them in another response.




"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam
Updated On: 12/12/13 at 11:36 AM
newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
Here are the criteria for unpaid internships in for-profit business, by the way:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded (which can be interpreted that teaching a task to an intern is not part of the regular duties of full-time staff and may delay completion of their regular tasks);

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.


Guidelines
Updated On: 12/12/13 at 11:41 AM
sinister teashop
Understudy
joined:3/5/08
Good! You found it.

Here's a link for a FAQ from the Council of Nonprofits about unpaid internships. They seem rather concerned about legality and workers comp. issues as well.

http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/interns
"Riches of the imagination, not the imagination of riches." - Charles Ludlam

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