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Image: Mad Cow Theatre logo, madcowtheatre.wordpress.com

More than three weeks ago, Aradhana Tiwari posted on social media what many in Orlando’s local theater community knew as an open secret.

The former resident director at Mad Cow Theatre alleged that over the past two years as an employee, the professional theater company had consistently fallen behind in paying her for her work, sometimes for weeks and even months. Before her employment started in 2014, Tiwari says Mad Cow owed her money from when she worked for them as an independent contractor, and two years later, they still hadn’t paid.

Such allegations might have sent shockwaves through a different theater community. But in Orlando, most artists reacted to Tiwari’s post with a resigned “me too.” Comment after comment, actors, stage managers, costume designers, technicians and former staff employees talked about delayed paychecks, paying for supplies for productions from their own pockets and being stiffed by the theater company. After her post went viral, Tiwari and more than 100 people signed a petition calling for a boycott of Mad Cow until it pays what it owes and holds itself accountable.

Tiwari has since been paid since her initial Facebook posts, though other artists are still waiting. Alvin Wang, a member of Mad Cow’s board of directors, has since responded, saying there was no question that Mad Cow was late in payments and the theater group is working on a plan to rectify that.

There’s still a debate online about what’s to blame in this situation– dwindling financial support for the arts or a culture of delinquent payments–but what shouldn’t be debated is whether artists should be paid for their work. Artists need to pay rent and eat food just like everyone else. As Tiwari says, “It’s not a hobby. It’s my livelihood.”

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