UI opera students are being paid for the first time in 20 years

BY YUN LIN | JULY 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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When Benjamin Laur performed in the recent University of Iowa production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers, he received something no opera student had: a paycheck.

For the performance, which closed Sunday, the lead singers received $1,000 each, and students in secondary roles received $500.

Opera singers have not. However, because there was no Summer Rep (a professional repertory company) this year, the funding went to the opera.

Laur, a second-year UI doctoral student of in voice, said he was excited to be paid for his performances.

“This summer, it attracts students to join here rather than to go seeking other opportunities to make money,” he said. 

UI Professor William LaRue Jones, the director of orchestral studies in the School of Music, said he believed one of the benefits of paying performers was many students did not have other jobs.

“This payment will help students spend their time preparing for their art, learning music, and attending rehearsals,” he said.

UI senior Chris Dockum, a double major in vocal performance and education, last summer tried working during the week as well as performing. This year, he said, he was able put more time into rehearsal so he could do his best for performances.

“There are a lot of talented singers, performers, directors, and musicians at the UI,” he said. “To pay everyone involved in the show just made for an additional push.

“That’s theater, whether or not we are being paid by the university. Our goal is always performing the best show we can.”

Laur said students are grateful to be paid because it really makes them feel like professionals.

“This summer is really good experience to take part in because we can be treated professionally,” Laur said. 

Dockum said this performance was well-attended because the students’ professionalism made audiences want to come. He believed audiences were responsive to the performances more than ever.

Although the pay is not a living wage, Jones said, he hopes the money will help students pay for apartments, bills, or food in the summer.

“It’s about 160 hours preparation, so the hourly wage is about $6.25,” Laur said. “It’s not a living wage, so I don’t think anyone can support himself or herself by singing opera in the university.”

Even though it was not really much money, students said they were grateful.

“Every single day, everyone is 100 percent devoted to it and treating it as serious as a job, ” Laur said.

Dockum said he supposed being paid was just another bonus, because participating in the performances was the most important thing.

No matter how much money students get paid, recognition is best to give to students in support of the work they have been doing, Jones said.

“It is not a problem for us to take it seriously,” Dockum said. “So this time, it just gives us one more motivation and a different feeling because we are being paid for our services.”

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