bills, bills, bills #2
A tech week in the life and wallet of two theatre designers working out of town, while their arts administrator spouses take care of their kids at home
Editor’s Note: This edition of Bills, Bills, Bills is a special double feature. By pure coincidence, two participants submitted their money diaries simultaneously: both were designers married to arts administrators, both with two kids each, and both spending a week out of town working on a show.
What these diaries indicate is that the cost of theatre work is not carried by just one person: when working out of town, there are increased costs for childcare, food, pet care, and travel. While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed by the theatres employing the artists, many expenses are not. The majority of theatre companies, as evident in these two diaries, do not provide per diems to out of town artists. During the famously inhumane tech schedules, there is little time left for cooking or preparing meals in advance. (And if your AirBnB doesn’t have basic cooking supplies, for instance, your options are to purchase these necessities or spend more for takeout.) Costs can also be increased at home; when one parent is out of town, it becomes necessary to rely on convenience foods and additional childcare while solo parenting small humans.
Because fees are tied to the design discipline and size of the theatre, we are not disclosing the exact paychecks for the shows below so as to help preserve anonymity. You may view the current range of LORT rates here.
This contributor asked to have their honorarium donated to Planned Parenthood.
Occupations: One of us is a Tenure Track Assistant Professor (9 month/year employee) and freelance theatre designer, and the other is an arts administrator.
Ages: Late Thirties
Children: 2, one elementary-age and one daycare-age
2021 Adjusted Gross Income: $149,000 (Base salaries as $62,500 for the arts administrator, $72,000 for the professor, and the rest of our income is from freelance fees)
Income this week: $2,639
Paycheck: $1,640 (my partner’s biweekly paycheck after taxes)
Honorarium for a panel I did last month: $80
Reimbursement from a show I did three months ago: $919
Student loans: $56,700 (combined)
Car Loan: $8,700
In the bank:
Retirement Savings: $51,000
Checking: $36,000. It’s the beginning of the summer and since I don't get paid for my university job over the summer, I like to have 3 months of funds on hand.
Day care: $1,568
Car loan payment: $318
Car and renter’s insurance: $149
Cell service: $72.30 for both adults combined
Planned Parenthood donation: $5
Total recurring monthly bills: $5,070.28
This week I am traveling to design a show while my partner and our two kids remain at home. It’s my first week of summer break from teaching. I take an Uber to the airport, but my flight gets canceled. I end up having to drive four hours in order to get to town in time for the designer run-thru. I will eventually get reimbursed for these costs.
Total transportation spending: $98
This is the budget line that we often go over. Every month I budget $1600 for groceries and $300 for dining out. Last month we spent $1517 on groceries and $550 on dining out…I have tried to adjust the grocery budget to accurately reflect our spending, but I continue to be in denial about how much we dine out. I keep telling myself this is a place where we should try and save money. Because I’m out of town this week, my father-in-law arrives to help with the kids, so we are still feeding two adults at home.
This week I spent $202 on groceries and a trip to the wine store. The area that us artists are housed in for this show is a bit of a food desert, and there are no grocery stores within walking distance. Normally, I would have groceries delivered while in tech, but since I ended up having my car I am able to impulse buy brownie chips and a potted plant as well.
Back at home, my family spent $304 on two trips to the grocery store and one farm delivery order of milk and eggs. We also spent $64 to order Momofuku noodles from an ad I saw on Instagram. We love noodles and David Chang, what we were supposed to do?
Between me and my family, we spent $161 on dining out this week, which isn’t too bad! I had an airport breakfast before my flight was canceled and a hamburger on the drive, and one takeout order of Thai food during tech. Reviewing our receipts, it looks like my family ordered pizza one night and got Popeye’s another night, and my spouse went out to lunch a few times on the days they were at the office.
Total food spending: $731
Childcare and Future Travel
Our younger kid is always in daycare. They are busy busy busy. It is hard to get anything else done when they are home. Our older kid is in kindergarten, which thankfully goes until after I am back from this show. Later in the summer the kindergartener will do “summer camp activities” after we come back from vacation, and we already paid for that back in February because that’s how insane summer camp spots are in our area.
My spouse works from home mostly — they use the guest room as an office — but some weeks they have to go in to the office based around the production schedule of whatever show they are working on. When I'm home my work day is usually 9:30 to 3:30pm. After 4pm, I belong to the kids unless I have a late meeting, but I try really hard to avoid those, as it's harder for my spouse to avoid them but we both try to keep 3:30-4:30 free so we can both do pick up and spend time together as a family.
This week we also paid for our travel to TCG, which will eventually get reimbursed. We also paid for our family to travel with me for my summer show (our vacation for the summer), about half of which I will also get reimbursed.
One week of daycare: $392
Travel to TCG: $698
Travel for summer show: $1,715
Total childcare and travel spending: $2805
We have “Amazon spending” as its own budget line. I bought a new pair of sneakers for $40 because my feet were killing me while out of town, and there is a line in the show about buying shoes and I am highly impressionable; I picked them up at an Amazon locker, now my feet don’t hurt! Both kids needed new socks (it feels like they always need new socks) and I accidentally took all of our umbrellas out of town with me, so my spouse had to buy a new one for $25. Because they are at home all week with the kids, my spouse also bought themselves the new Kirby video game for $60 (#selfcare). It was “Mustache Day” at our 6-year-old’s school, so we spent $10 on a big bag of fake mustaches. $50 is using Amazon Pay for “Black Parents Make Plays” t-shirts in support of the Black Motherhood and Parenting New Play Festival. I’m not sure what the other $28 was for — probably more socks? I also ran out of clothes while out of town and had to buy a new outfit at Burlington Coat Factory for laundry day. I also renewed our yearly Fitbit subscription.
Amazon spending: $213
Laundry day outfit: $43
Fitbit subscription: $80
Total stuff spending: $336
Total Weekly Spending: $3,970
This contributor asked to have their honorarium donated to National Network of Abortion Funds.
Occupation: Freelance designer
Location: New York City, but this week I’m in a different large US city to work on a show.
Income: This gets complicated. I’m incorporated (S-Corp), so I pay myself a salary of $40,000 per year ($624.77 / week after taxes). The rest of my income I take as distributions. In 2021, I actually operated at loss ($58K in income, $61K in expenses, which includes salary). In 2019, our last “normal” year, I had a profit of $62K (118K in income, 56K in expenses)
Spouse’s Occupation: Arts administrator
Spouse’s Income: $1227.80 / week after taxes & health insurance deductions ($96,000/year gross)
Fixed Recurring Expenses
Utilities (cable, cell phone, internet, etc.): $189 (this includes my spouse’s use of these items)
Software (Adobe, Dropbox, Quickbooks, drafting software, etc.): $250
Business Credit card monthly fee (pro-rated): $50
Rent: $1400 (massively subsidized because my in-laws own our apartment)
Healthcare: $800 (weekly out-of-network doctor’s appointments)
Childcare: $1275 (two kids, after-school program, 2pm-5pm x 5 days a week)
Babysitting: (average $500 this month, lower when I’m not out of town)
The alarm is set for 4am but I wake up at 3:50, just to make today extra miserable. I’ve been away from home for the last three weeks in tech for a new show and now I’m leaving for yet another city to tech yet another new show. My $84.88 Lyft ride to the airport will be reimbursed by the theater (if I remember to turn in the receipt). All I want to do on the first leg of this trip is sleep, but I give in to the smell of the Dunkin Donuts next to the gate and buy a small black coffee ($3.07).
I have enough time to pop into the airport lounge during my layover for an extremely unappetizing premade omelet and a surprisingly decent Bloody Mary (the lounge access is free with my business credit card). When I get to my destination, I pick up my rental car (paid by the theater) and drive straight to work. We work for four hours, after which I can’t see straight and I call it a day (we’re the only department working today, so I get to call the shots). I realize that I haven’t eaten since the omelet. Before we finish for the day, I have to renew the subscription on a piece of software for the tech table, which I do for $21.76.
I drive to the hotel, which is a perfectly acceptable if not glamorous Residence Inn, complete with a full kitchen (also paid for by the theater). My team has been here for almost a full week getting things ready without me, so I take them out to a medium-nice dinner and cocktails as a thank you ($304.44, including tip…the city we are working in is not cheap). There is talk of going out for one more drink but at this point I’ve been up for almost 20 straight hours. We call it a night and I crash almost before sunset.
Total daily spending: $414.15
It’s a day off, but thanks to the time zone change, I’m wide awake at 6am. I avail myself of free coffee and “breakfast” at the hotel (a truly sad English muffin and egg sandwich) and then I hit up Trader Joe’s for tech table snacks and groceries to the tune of $139.69. A not-fun game I like to play at the end of tech residencies is guessing how much of this food I will leave behind (because I never have time to make any of it). This outing I try to stick to the frozen/reheatable items as much as possible.
I spend the rest of the morning working in my hotel room and talk to my partner for an hour; with the time zone difference, it’s going to be ROUGH to keep in touch. My kids are at an age where it’s almost harder for them to see me on Facetime than to not see me at all, but we try and talk every couple of days. This is the first long stretch I’ve been gone since the pandemic and my youngest is having an especially hard time with it.
While I’m working, I get an invoice from my bookkeeper for my 2021 Quickbooks prep ($375, thanks to a huge friend discount), which reminds me that I need to categorize about 12 weeks worth of expenses.
I also need to get a new tuxedo shirt for an event in two weeks and this is my only day off to do it. I look online, but everything is sold out or backordered, so to the mall it is. I find a Suit Supply nearby and now I’ve just dropped $178, tailoring included.
Back to the hotel for some more work (re-watching the Act 1 rehearsal video) and then it’s dinnertime. We’re in a town with extremely good sushi, so my team and I pick a place nearby and do sake samplers and a basic chef’s choice ($121 with tax and tip). At dinner, I get a text from my spouse asking me to put in a Costco order for dishwasher tabs, applesauce, and Cheerios. I login to find that my membership has just expired, and I have to renew it ($60) plus the cost of the items ($38). Our team heads home, has homemade cocktails at the hot tub, and goes to bed.
Daily total: $911.69. Oof.
I have breakfast using the groceries I bought and pack lunch for today (sandwich and a Greek salad). One of my team members treats me to coffee on the way into work, but I also made cold brew last night, so that should last me the week (I’m really trying to cut down on my coffee buying; we’ll see how it goes). This theater provides a huge table of snacks in the back row, and I also brought a large assortment of nuts to my tech table to share. There aren’t really any places to get anything within walking distance, so fortunately/unfortunately that limits my spending options.
It’s the usual chaotic first day in the theater. We have an hour, so my team drives to a healthy-fast-casual type takeout place for dinner. I have a chicken and grain bowl and a glass of rosé ($26.70, including tax and tip). We finish at 11pm (ugh), and I come home to discover that I left the ham out when I made my sandwich this morning. Fuck.
7:45 alarm. I roll out of bed, make coffee, and eat some toast. I answer a LOT of emails (being on the west coast means waking up to a full inbox) until housekeeping knocks on my door and I take that as my cue to leave. I stop at Trader Joe’s on my way in to replace the ham I ruined and while I’m there I buy a Greek salad and a hummus cup ($7.78). It’s the first full day of tech, which usually sends my anxiety through the roof, but things go reasonably okay. My team picks another equally bougie fast-casual place nearby for dinner (grilled chicken club, glass of wine, $24.50). The evening session continues to go well (if slow), and even though we’re not doing 10 out of 12s, the end of day is still 11pm. I get back to the hotel, have a TJ’s soft pretzel as a snack, and go to bed.
Daily total: $32.28
I wake up and cruise through my email inbox. One message is from my kids’ school about after-school care for the end of June; my oldest needs to be enrolled for a week which costs $150. The afternoon session is a slog…I don’t feel great about anything I’m making and the process is slow. At dinner, I have a plate of some of the best chicken tenders I’ve ever had with potatoes and broccoli, plus one more glass of wine ($25.80). The evening session isn’t much better than the afternoon, but things are starting to be on the upswing. Home to crash at 11:15.
Daily total: $175.80
I have to be up ungodly early for a Zoom call with folks in New York, so the alarm goes off at 6:30. It’s another day of tech, of course, and we return to the original fast bougie casual for dinner ($23.91). We’ve now added dry tech over dinner breaks so we only have one hour to eat; we need somewhere close and fast. My oldest had an out of network doctor’s appointment today ($200) and I Venmo the babysitter who picked them up from school ($50) to take them.
Daily total: $273.91
In the morning, I get a text that my tuxedo shirt is ready for pickup, so I head to the mall right when they open at 10. Turns out that text was a lie and they need another 45 minutes, so I wander around. There’s a La Colombe coffee stand and I give in to temptation ($4). The shirt is ready and they upsell me on a new bowtie ($45.43). While I’m paying, I notice that a couple of monthly business bills have auto-charged: a newspaper subscription ($3.99), my Apple One ($30.19) and my monthly Delta WifiPass ($49). I make a mental note to cancel that last one; I’ve got four more flights booked this month but then I’ll be home for a bit.
I’ve now burned most of the morning and I need to be at the theater, so I stop at a grocery store on the way in for mediocre sushi and a seltzer ($18.98). We’ve started to pick up the pace and things are looking up. I deeply love this show and I want it to be great, so that improves my mood a bit. Over the dinner break, my department and another department have a joint dinner at a bar/pub type place. We share nachos and get burgers and beers and split the check via Venmo ($30).
The evening session continues apace. We were supposed to be running Act 1 by now but we’ve got more pages to get through. A major sequence goes better and faster than expected, and we end the day on a high note.
Daily total: $181.59
Total Weekly Spending: $2016.12