A freelance designer working on a National Theatre show has backtracked on plans to use volunteers on the project, following accusations of exploitation.
Samuel Wyer is the costume and puppet designer for the NT’s forthcoming production of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and recently issued a call on Facebook for an unpaid “puppet-making job”. He said he wanted “volunteer support” for some basic puppet making.
However, his post was met with criticism from people who claimed it amounted to exploitation as unpaid work. Wyer said an “extra hand is always helpful”.
One responded: “Extra hands are always helpful yes. It’s also an elaborate way to say ‘exploitation’.”
He has since withdrawn the offer, telling The Stage he was not looking to “deliver unpaid work”.
He said: “I am a self-employed theatre designer and maker. Working as I do on a large range of production types – fringe, commercial, community and subsidised – I am hugely conscious of the many ways to become involved in this industry. In my career I have appreciatively taught and worked with volunteers, assistants and student placements, across a variety of projects, many of whom I now continue to work with as professionals.”
Wyer said he believed that “skilled artists should be paid for their work”, adding that he wanted “people to be given the chance to experience the creative process through learning opportunities”.
“The post I wrote asking for interest in working with myself and a puppet maker on a volunteer basis was made in good faith. [I was] hoping to give someone the opportunity to find the same joy and inspiration I found in my early experiences working with designers and makers, and continue to do in a cross-disciplinary fashion with other artists.
“I wasn’t looking for anyone to deliver unpaid work and, despite the many positive responses, I can understand it has appeared this way to a few people and for that reason I have withdrawn the offer,” he said.
Wyer also confirmed that the opportunity had been offered without “prior discussion with the National Theatre”.
A spokeswoman for the NT confirmed it did not know about Wyer’s call for volunteers.