Pro vs Hobbyist: Aerial Smackdown, Part 1

Posted by: on June 2, 2015

should i donateTruth? I’m writing this, and then fleeing the country for German wheel world championships in Italy. See ya, suckas!

Actually, I started writing this all as one post, but it got tooooooooo looooooooooong. So, I’m carving it into 4 easily digestible parts! Stay tuned for 2-4.

What is the difference between a professional and a hobbyist? Recently, I posted this meme on the F-books (click it to make it bigger). Most responses were positive, but a couple brought up some commonly held (if not voiced) opinions:

  • the only difference between a pro & a hobbyist is that the professional accepts/demands payment
  • I shouldn’t have to turn down a performance just because someone else wants to make money at it
  • performers should focus on being better, thus edging out amateurs
  • me performing at events (charity and otherwise) for free does not “take away” a gig from a professional

Hear that sound? It’s the sound of a hundred professionals grinding their molars in frustration. Why? Because these questions so boldly illustrate the misunderstanding and lack of awareness surrounding our business, it’s enough to make a gal want to hang up her sequins for good.

This is a HUGE topic, so I’ve included several links to additional posts so as not to reinvent the wheel.

Is There Really a Difference Between a Professional & a Non-Professional?

Yes. Yes there is. First, I would like to direct you to this awesome blog post by Allison Williams, which is aimed at individuals interested in pursuing a professional career, who may or may not be ready to call themselves pros yet. This post details many aspects of the work that laypersons don’t consider.

Second, let me tell you The Tale of The Ceiling Fan in My Bedroom. A few years ago, the Mister and I decided to install a ceiling fan in our bedroom to combat the misery of NYC summers. We went to Home Depot, picked out the perfect fan, dragged it home and … wondered how the hell to install it. We considered calling in a professional electrician/handyman, but wait! The guy down the hall said he could – and would – install it for us! It would be a breeze!! WIN! He brought over all his tools, and hammered and sawed around in the bedroom for a while. Three hours later, he came out and proclaimed it done! “The plaster is a little bumpy, but I’ll be back in a few days with some more plaster to smooth it out.” Long story short, the plaster was A LOT BUMPY, looked awful, there’s a small hole in my ceiling, and he never did come back. We also can’t put the fan on the highest speed or I’m pretty sure it will just fly off the ceiling. Sigh – should have hired someone. See where I’m going with this?

Being a professional is more than just being good at something; it reflects a level of dedication, experience, and investment (emotionally, financially, physically), that the layperson simply does not have. It involves expertise – something Americans seem to pooh-pooh in our age of WebMD, Pinterest, and YouTube. Thing is, expertise is a real thing, and my expertise trumps your hobby. Every time.

Let’s have a look at a few of the myriad ways pros and hobbyists differ. In addition to Allison’s substantial list, hobbyists are:

  • unlikely to have invested sufficiently in equipment, costumes, rigging, rigging training, and insurance
  • more likely to leave questionable safety practices or situations unchallenged, often simply because they are unaware that there’s a problem
  • unlikely to have a well-informed understanding of the nuances of event work, and are thus less able to anticipate common missteps or snags
  • often invested heavily in their own experience, and less interested in maintaining professional standards and working conditions

On the artistic side, there’s this.

What is a Professional Gig?

For the purposes of this particular discussion, it’s any event for which the client wishes to hire a professional. Does the person who is asking you to perform know that you’re not a professional? You may not think they’ll care, but trust me – even when they’re asking you to “donate” your talent, they care. In fact, people tend to get reeeeeeeeally uncomfortable when they find that the person they want to have rigging and dangling from the venue’s (very expensive) ceiling isn’t a pro.

Prior to any sort of agreement, if you do not clearly convey to the client that you do not do this for a living, you are misleading them; as in, “I do want to make sure, before we move forward, that you understand that I am not a professional aerialist. I (insert qualifications here), but I do not make my living doing this.” Does saying that make you uncomfortable? You should ask yourself why.

Click here for Part 2! Dare to imagine, Laura

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