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July 23, 2008



I think as much as an entry level marketing or development associate would be a pretty good improvement for most of the actors I know in town who are working onstage consistently.

Kelly H

Those rates seem fare to me. NYC is an expensive city for most people to live in, regardless of profession (teachers, social workers, etc struggle too).

Mick Montgomery

I guess ultimately I am asking as well... how much does our society deem the work of an actor to be worth?

Is that amount based solely on the reward a community receives from the talent of an actor, which is subjective...

Or is it based on the economic or fiscal impact their talent brings to the product, which can be more justified and measured by profit.


I would say that the average ACTOR salary should be equivalent with a teacher's current salary. In most places, a teacher's current salary is enough for a single person to live on and maybe, possibly be able to put some aside.

I say current because I believe teachers should be paid more than they are, but I think what teachers get paid now is about what an actor should make for purely acting (assuming it's full-time acting).

Any less than that and you really can't live off of it. More than that would be great, but that kind of pay should really only come from years of experience and dedication.

Scott Walters

College teacher.


Well, let's maybe look at what actors are making at their non-theatre day jobs. So, let's say the actor is working as an administrative assistant for somewhere in the $15-$20/hour range. And they work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (because we're assuming that in those day jobs they also get benefits like paid vacation). That is an annual salary of $31,200-$41,600. Not including the cost of benefits like employer-subsidized healthcare, but I'll leave those off to simplify things. If your actor is working for your company full time, is that an unreasonable starting amount? Because nobody's getting that. Is it because there's not enough work to go around?

Way back a couple of months ago when the whole Equity/non-Equity debate raged over at The Theater Loop [http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/the_theater_loop/2008/03/shout-the-mod-1.html], a commenter (Kevin) figured out the following:

"What's to be done indeed? I wish there was a magic answer to that. I've thought for a long time that Equity, at least when they deal with a town like Chicago needs to rethink their role. The reality is the CAT contract does not give you a living wage. Here's the annual salary if you were to work 50 weeks a year at the minimum salary for each tier:

Tier 1: $8,125
Tier 2: $11,650
Tier 3: $15,987.50
Tier 4: $23,262.50
Tier 5: $29,175
Tier 6: $35,000

So you don't hit living wage land until Tier 4 if I'm going to be *extremely* generous. Even $35,000 isn't a great annual wage in another career. My wife made that as an executive assistant, and locally, that's the top-of-the-top. And I know...that's the minimum, but even the theatres paying their actors above the min - is it really that much more? Enough to get them to $40K? I am doubtful."

So what next? Theatres say they can't afford to hire actors full-time to be at their disposal at a full time salary. What about an hourly rate? It's not ideal, because an actor has a lot of "homework" to do outside of actual in-house rehearsal/performance time, but maybe it's a baby step...


How many actors work 40 hours a week? Not including homework outside of performance or rehearsal.

(If you're comparing, since other jobs don't pay for that either.)


This might be a great place to start talking about basic economics and the law of supply and demand.
Before launching my direct response copywriting and marketing consulting business, I played the drums professionally for 26 years.
I performed, recorded, and toured with regional, national, and international artists in Dallas, Chicago, New York, LA, and around the world. And I did my fair share of local bar bands, weddings, and corporate gigs in Dallas and Chicago.
In the early 1980's, I was payed commensurately with what the "market" - local, regional, national, recording, etc. - would bear.
Bigger artists payed more because they sold more tickets, records(remember them?), and merchandise, and knew they needed to pay more for my services to maintain the quality performance they needed to please their audiences.
But, as the 1980s turned into the 1990s, a huge influx of equally competent professionals started entering my area of work. Prices started falling as many of these people competed on price alone to get the work. And the number of drummers able to make a "living wage" playing their instrument has fallen proportionately ever since, because the supply of competent professional drummers has exceeded demand by a huge margin.
It's also important for artists to remember that it's the responsibility of ANY manager - no matter how much they WOULD LIKE to pay their artists - to make a profit. And that means controlling costs. And labor is a cost. If the cost of labor is too high, the organization cannot, by definition, sustain itself.
So I don't think arbitrarily setting wages ("price-fixing") works in a a free market, or fits well with a reasonable business model. Historically, price-fixing tends to lead to "outsourcing", downsizing, or the organization closes its doors entirely.
My union tried to hold the line on wages in the 1980's and failed every time, with the exception of a few major symphonies and major national touring, recording, television, and film contracts. In fact, wages usually went down when the musicians union interfered in the market.
I know creative people tend to think money grows on trees and "the man" is sticking it to them, but the harsh reality is, the arts are a business just like any other ... and must turn a profit to survive. So, if creatives don't feel they're getting paid enough, they have some choices:
1- improve your skills and try to get a better job;
2- If you feel you're as good as the best in the business, move to the appropriate city and try to work your way up the ladder;
3- If that isn't possible, try to find innovative, creative ways to bring added value to what you're already doing. Try to attract more people to pay their hard earned money to see your performances.
I know I would have been a lot better off early in my musical career if had thought of MYSELF as a business and put that mindset to use for myself AND my employers.

Mick Montgomery

To go along with Michael's comments here's a trick actors barely ever try. When you get the quote... ask for more. ... you just might get it.


Tony -

It is true that an actor's job may not stack up to 40 hours a week. But, I don't think the typical day job has "homework" associated with it, either. But I would guess that if they are spending 15 hours a week in rehearsal, a good actor is spending at least another 5 hours on "homework." It is a requirement of the job that I show up at the next rehearsal with my lines and blocking memorized, research done on my own, all that sort of thing that I cannot do while in rehearsal itself.

When I leave my office at the end of the day, I don't have to spend any of my own personal time on any of it. I could if I wanted to, but if I don't I can easily accomplish all of my job requirements in the time that I am actually present in the office without any outside work. The same cannot be said of theatre artists. Everybody's got a ton of work to do before they actually show up to work.

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