Oprah Winfrey spent the fall criss-crossing America on her "Live the Life You Want Weekend" arena tour. Featured speakers at this orgy of inspiration included big names like Elizabeth Gilbert. And yet, apparently she couldn't scrape together the cash to pay some hoopers asked to perform as peripheral acts.
That's according to a blog post by Revolva, a hula hoop performer from the Bay area. A sizzle reel of her numbers:
She writes that she was approached by a Harpo Studios producer, asking whether she'd be interested in performing at Oprah's San Jose event. Of course she was interested! "As a performer, writer and activist, I've spent 12 years taking a million chances, attempting to live in alignment with my spirit, rather than our toxic culture. I've spoken up as a survivor. I'm the female comedy act in a space helmet." Only, there was some fine print:
Ah, but Oprah, you are a wise woman. I should have known that, in the phone call with your producer, there was a deep spiritual lesson in store for me. Here is our paraphrased conversation:
Producer: "Your stuff sounds great. Are you interested?"
Me: "Hell yes! Oprah! Oprah!"
Producer: "Okay, so just to be clear, you'd be on a stage outside the event. And, you know, just to be clear, Oprah will not be on that stage. Oh, and just to be clear, this gig isn't paid."
"People started calling US, asking to perform, so we thought we'd add a stage for local acts," the producer added, according to Revolva. How very thoughtful!
Now, this might've been one thing if Oprah were leading a free event, or even a relatively cheap event. Nope: the very cheapest tickets went for $99, with better seats ranging $199, $299, $599 and even, for the very best seats, $999. (Oprah herself walks around the section that costs a grand.) Which made it tough to stomach the thought of performing gratis:
In one day, your arena tour (capacity around 18,000, each ticket $99 to $999) is raking in more money than most people will make in a year. In ten years. In their entire lives. And yet, your side stage, featuring local acts, is paying in that old tap-dancing, phantom promise of "exposure." As I was choking on my own tongue (stroke!), your producer also mentioned there was the added bonus of a ticket to the event. Unfortunately, her call coming just four days before your San Jose stop, I didn't have the whole weekend free. I also texted my landlord, and it turns out he does not accept rent payment in Oprah Winfrey tickets. Gah!
Rather than perform, Revolva wrote Oprah an open letter, taking her to task for her underlings' shenanigans.
The post has attracted enough attention she's been forced to upgrade her site—twice, Revolva told me when I contacted her. She explained the call came shortly after her car bit the dust, and things have been tough enough she's taking a full-time gig that'll cut into the time she can spend performing. "That car putting me so far under—combined with the "We don't have any budget for your work" coming from a billionaire's tour—at a sensitive time when I've had to rearrange my life—just felt like it the final blow," she explained. (We've contacted OWN, one of the many Oprah-related entities behind the tour, for comment, and will update if we hear back.)
"Oprah Winfrey's event can't afford to pay performers. I'd have to drive a rental car to the arena in exchange for exposure," she added. "And the tour that wants free work is called "The Life You Want." It's like a sitcom, except it's reality. I wrote this post because I guess I just felt exasperated enough to say, 'Can people who can afford to pay artists please stop making super-saver coupons out of our lives?'"
If the open letter actually makes it to Oprah, "I would love for her to consider the question at the end of it," Revolva said. "Is there a role she could play in creating a more nurturing existence for local artists? She has the big voice and the financial power to actually create change—and she does great things, like, you know, empowering people to live the lives they want."
Also don't tangle with hula hoopers, I guess?
Image via AP.