How Not to Treat Unpaid Employees
I worked an event for a local performance art team about a month ago. The event was to celebrate the release of a short film they had just finished working on, and I was to work with my colleagues from our local magazine on decorating a room to look like a “teenage punk girl lives here.” The headache was born in that moment. It only grew as the minutes passed. Our window of decoration was from 8 pm all the way to midnight. I believe they were going to make us clean up as well.
About twenty minutes into the grown-up arts-and-crafts party in a strange event venue, the main room of which was hosting a noise band and probably the most disgusting-smelling food I’ve ever encountered, I asked for a drink only to be told “no.” I felt as though I had entered an episode of the Twilight Zone, an episode in which artists from all over the Houston area are mysteriously invited to an event for a company and short film they had never heard of. They all show up to the event and are told to make collages for a teen punk, and they are told that they cannot have anything to drink or eat. They are told they cannot leave the premises to acquire drinks and snacks for themselves. They are watched like children by their parents in time-out. They are spoken down to. However, they do find a lot of things to laugh about.
For example, each room in the venue was to host its own “Jenny,” who was an actress made-up to look like an emo version of the manic pixie dream girl. She’s supposed to just sit around in the room and look as teenagerly and “punk” as possible while all the…uh…cult members who have finished their disgusting food visit each room and discuss the depth of such an event. The headache began to scare me it was so bright and burning.
The kicker of it all was perhaps the broken promise that was never discussed before my colleagues and one of the other artists brought by fate snuck out “for a cigarette” to never return: we were all supposed to have a chance to promote our magazines, our art, our contribution to local art outside of performance “art” stunts like this one. Instead, we were unpaid volunteers for their idiotic play. My headache didn’t go away until I woke up the next morning wondering if it was all a strange nightmare…