Tanner Richardett (he/him/his) was born and raised in Central New Jersey with little interest in city life but a glowing passion for music and theatre. Despite his hesitations, he moved to Philadelphia for college, and is now a two-time graduate of Drexel University, first completing his Bachelor of Science in the Music Industry program (MIP) in 2020, then his Master of Science in Arts Administration in 2021. In addition to his academics, Tanner is an artist in many forms, most prominently as a Sound Designer and often too as a Graphic Designer. His work has been seen and heard across Philadelphia and online, with organizations including Drexel University (Co-op Theatre Company and Drexel Players), Temple University, Mantua Theatre Project, Commonwealth Classic, Theatre Contra, The Strides Collective, and Mauckingbird Theatre Company (BroadwayWorld Regional Award 2019 Nominee for Best Sound Design in Philadelphia for Significant Other). This intersection of his line of work and his studies led him to a deep passion for equitable treatment, payment, and representation of artists, especially in the live entertainment industry, and thus led to the desire for and creation of this research.
Following his graduation from the Arts Administration & Museum Leadership program, we spoke with Tanner about his experience at Westphal, his ongoing thesis project, and his hopes for the future.
Tell me a bit about your background, and what brought you to Drexel’s Master’s program in Arts Administration & Museum Leadership.
During my time in undergrad, while Music Industry was always my major, theatre ended up being a much greater focus of my extracurricular time and field of interest. I was a member of the Co-Op Theare Company for all four years, in addition to being its student General Manager for my junior year, while also establishing my name as a freelance sound designer in the Philadelphia theatre community. The MIP gave me a great perspective on the for-profit live entertainment and music business. But much of theatre, unless you plan on going to Broadway, operates in the non-profit space. I realized if I wanted to stay with the theatre industry, I should know both. At the beginning of my senior year, Allison Trimarco, an adjunct instructor in the Arts Administration program, clued me into the idea of pursuing this degree, which I considered for a while. Then COVID hit, live entertainment virtually disappeared overnight, and at that point it felt like a no-brainer to ride out the pandemic by attending grad school!
At what point in your graduate studies did you decide to center your thesis around the labor conditions of theatre workers? What inspired you to look closer into this?
It wasn’t my original idea for my thesis, admittedly. At first, I thought I would write about innovations in digital and immersive theatre over the pandemic and how companies were finding new ways of production without being able to be physically present. After spending so much of the early terms of the program discussing arts activism and necessary change to be made in the American arts field, I knew my passion was much more heavily focused in something activism-based. I’d been closely watching We See You, White American Theatre and No More 10 Out of 12s, the two coalitions at the front of this movement, since their inceptions. And as a technician and designer who has spent plenty of weekends locked in tech rooms for “10 out of 12” rehearsals, I knew I too was dreading the thought of returning to that environment when in-person theatre returned. It was almost a perfect storm of timing, how all of this came to be.
(For context, "10 out of 12s" are a common practice in the theatre industry in which technical rehearsals involve a 12-hour call, 10 of which involve the actors working on-stage with a two-hour break in the middle of the day for dinner. For actors, this schedule holds true; however, for technicians, this usually includes time before, a shortened dinner break, and time after to work on notes, hold a production meeting, and reset for the following day.)
What do you hope the outcome or future of the project, No More 10 Out of 12s, will be?
I’m hoping that the powers that be in theatre listen, more than anything! This research was tailored to Philadelphia because it’s where I conduct all of my work, but I hope that other major theatre markets are able to see it, take something from it, maybe even conduct their own studies to see how their community of artists also feel about the movement. The ideal outcome is a nationwide change away from this practice. Of course, that’s a large undertaking. If at the very least this Philly-centric study can impact the landscape of Philly theatre alone, that alone would be a huge success.
What was the most challenging part of the thesis process? The most exciting?
Getting people to respond was so difficult! It’s hard to make people respond to a survey about something that, for some, can be a traumatic working environment. Especially with no incentive to do so other than “the hope for change,” motivating people to take the survey required a lot of direct outreach, getting others to share it on my behalf, and constant reminders. But once these stories starting coming in, these incredibly strong feelings towards the abolition of this practice, it was really something special to see such solidarity from the Philadelphia theatre community around this movement.
How did the pandemic impact your research? Your education?
In the most strange way, the pandemic is entirely to thank for both the research and the education! Without COVID, the theatre industry never would have gotten the chance to stop and reflect on its years of wrongdoing and mistreatment of artists. We work endlessly, and most of us have to simply because we are not paid enough to sustain any sort of break. With no time for reflection, there would likely be no coalition formation, no demands, no movement. And again, without COVID, I likely would have waited to attend grad school until later down the line when I felt I needed it. I was hopeful about certain job prospects right out of undergrad, and then COVID hit and washed all of them away, so there was just no better time to do it than while work was limited.
How can folks become involved with No More 10 Out of 12s?
Involvement is a three-step process: recognize, sympathize, and mobilize. Understand there’s a movement happening first, and understand why it’s happening next. By reading this Q&A, you’ve already recognized the existence of the movement.
To sympathize, read the demands of We See You, White American Theatre, read the rationales from No More 10 Out of 12s, and read the stories from my research (and the whole thesis, ideally!) Now that you’ve sympathized with the stories and with the reasons to fight for this change, mobilize; take the fight to your favorite theatre company! Make sure they know this conversation is happening, and make sure they’re changing with the times. Some already have, but many have yet to say anything.
One of my favorite lines from my thesis is one of the last, actually, which says “We cannot continue to work in an industry that does not work for us.” Artists should want better; patrons of the arts should care for the artists they pay to see; arts organizations should care for the artists they hire.
Beyond this project, what is next for you, professionally and/or personally?
Currently, I’m working part-time with my undergraduate department, assisting in the operation and maintenance of the Music Industry Program’s recording studios. With grad school now behind me, though, I’m seeking full-time opportunities here in Philadelphia, ideally in the non-profit and/or live entertainment spaces. While I’m on the hunt, I’ll be at home bothering my roommate’s cats while they nap, playing video games (currently back on my once-a-year Minecraft kick), and helping to create queer theatre experiences as the Director of Production with The Strides Collective.
You can learn more about No More 10 Out of 12s, read Tanner’s research, and share your own story here.