The Bare Minimum: Breaking Down Broadway Actor Salaries

Ever wanted to know how much actors on Broadway get paid? Look no further.

Before we start, it’s important to note that every item that goes into constituting a total salary is determined by the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity Association, several years in advance; they actually publish salary rates, which automatically increase every year in September, several years before they actually go into effect. The whole of Broadway operates under a universal agreement negotiated by Equity that lays down practically every rule of operation under the sun, just as off-Broadway, regional theatres, readings, and tours have their own specific agreements to which they must adhere.

The new agreement, which retroactively goes into effect this past September and expires in 2019, was only just ratified so a full copy hasn’t yet been posted on the Equity website; instead, we’ll work off the previous agreement, which is available here. Nothing I’m about to say here is confidential, since Equity makes every agreement, with all salary information contained therein, available for public perusal in their document library. (Which is super cool if you have the time, inclination, and knowledge to decipher them.)

According to this month’s issue of the Equity newsletter, “the new agreement calls for a 12.57% increase in minimum salaries on Broadway and full production tours, with increases ranging from 6% to 12% on increments.” So while we are unfortunately using an outdated agreement, the numbers I’ll be discussing in this post are only slightly lower than standard Broadway actor salaries as of December 20, 2015.

First we have the union-mandated minimum scale, which was $1,861 per week as of September 29, 2014. This is the baseline of everyone’s salary, and typically a principal actor in a super low-budget show or an ensemble actor with few cover assignments or specialties will make only a little more than this minimum. Also built into every company member’s salary is the media fee (a requirement only for musicals, however, not plays), which entitles the producers to use reproductions of the actor’s image for promotional purposes. As of September 29, 2014, the media fee was $37.22.

Next, let’s get into ensemble parts. Being contracted as a swing, partial swing, dance captain, understudy, specialty part (i.e. unnamed chorus role that stands out in some way), or specialty understudy will earn an actor additional increments based on how many of these they’re expected to perform. Per individual assignment: $50 for principal understudy, $15 for additional understudy assignments (plus a bonus if you understudy a lot of roles), $15 per partial swing assignment, $20 for chorus specialty, $15 for understudying a specialty, and $8 for set moves. Dance captains earn an additional $372.20 (fully deserved, I think, since they’re required to know every track and keep their entire company in line!), assistant dance captains $186.10, fight captains $75, and swings $93.05. Every performance in which an understudy appears as the role they’re covering earns them a per-performance increase, too. There’s an extraordinary risk payment of $20 for actors who participate in onstage blocking deemed potentially hazardous to the actor’s safety (e.g. jumping from heights, flying, climbing complicated set pieces).

Finally, there are two categories that aren’t exactly related to the actor’s performance in the production. The first is the term contract increment, which is a figure written into the salaries of actors with term contracts (i.e. for a specific length of time with no outs), and usually applies to principals only; this adds $200/week. An initial six-month rider for an ensemble member, locking them into that contract for six months, will add $80/week. Second, there’s overscale, which is simply anything the producers want to tack on to the actor’s salary for whatever reason; leads or stars will receive the bulk of their inflated salaries from the overscale addition. If Taylor Swift were offered the role of Elphaba on Broadway, for example, she might earn the minimum scale of $1,861, a media fee of $37.22, an extraordinary risk fee of $20, and an overscale addition of (let’s ballpark here) $50,000/week. Stars also typically get profit participation written into their contracts, which is a way of ensuring that they get adequately compensated for their star power that (theoretically) amplifies the success of the show; through this clause, they’re entitled to a percentage of the weekly box office receipts.

To give an example of how this all comes together: let’s say you’re an ensemble member in Pitch Perfect: the Musical on Broadway. Your minimum base salary starts off at $1861/week. You’re playing one of the commentators in the competition scenes (which adds $20 as a featured part), understudying both Beca and Audrey (which adds $100; $50 x 2 principal parts) as well as one of the unnamed Bellas (which adds $15 as a chorus understudy). On top of that, you’re the assistant dance captain, which gets you an additional $186.10 per week. So add those to the $20 extraordinary risk fee (assuming the show has a few stunts) and the $8 set moves fee, as well as the $37.22 media fee, and you’re probably going to make somewhere around $2247.32 per week.

This calculation is certainly not gospel for every contract on Broadway, however; those are up to the discretion of the producers and their general managers, and may be subject to serious change based on a variety of factors. But I think it’s safe to say that they’re a pretty good indication of the reality for most working actors, and hopefully this post has been able to illuminate the nuances of Broadway actor salaries – a subject that’s largely impenetrable to those outside the industry. 

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