Those interested in the theatre, and more specifically the actors in the theatre, often wonder how profitable working on Broadway really is. The answer to this inquiry varies based upon the status of the actor (i.e. whether or not he/she is a celebrity), as well as the role the actor is playing (i.e. lead versus supporting role).
Equity spokesperson Maria Somma was quoted by Playbill as saying, “It is the Actors Equity Association’s policy to keep confidential our members’ information, including their earnings. However, Actors Equity Association negotiates a minimum weekly salary. This is the minimum for any actor — whether the person is making his or her debut, working in the chorus, or is the leading actor. An actor (or the actor’s agent) can negotiate higher than the weekly minimum, but never accept a salary lower than the negotiated minimum.”
Quora insider Matt Joachim, who has worked at Off-Broadway theatre companies as well as the companies that produced Broadway shows including Spring Awakening, Rent, and Avenue Q, shared some insight into what Somma referred to as the minimum. Joachim stated, “An actor in a Broadway show produced under a League contract (this includes a majority of commercial productions) has a base salary of $1703 per week under current Actors Equity contracts (note that this value is subject to change)”.
While there is no guarantee that an actor will earn more than the minimum, even for a starring role, many contracts are negotiated to be higher than the base salary. In fact, many are able to not only get a higher base salary but also a percentage of the gross for the production, similar to what is done in Hollywood.
As you can imagine, producers are willing to pay celebrities far more than a debuting actor/actress on Broadway because they can assure that the celebrities’ star power will attract audiences. For the most part, the salary of celebrity Broadway stars is kept tight-lipped. However, probably the highest known base salary for a celebrity Broadway star went to Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers, where their salaries were over $100,000 per week. It was reported in The Post that the base salary of Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain was about $40,000 weekly whereby they also received a percentage of the box office, which brought them to a net of more than $100,000 a week. The Post also reported that Julia Roberts earned $150,000 per week for her role in Three Days of Rain.
Other celebrity salaries include Harry Connick Jr. pulling in $30,000 per week in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Nathan Lane commanding $60,000 per week in The Addams Family, Patti LuPone was cashing paychecks for $40,000 per week in Gypsy and Daniel Radcliffe setting the production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying back $50,000 per week. Of course, these numbers don’t figure in their negotiated cut of the box office. By comparison, mere mortal with a strong Broadway pedigree Alice Ripley secured $8000 per week for Next to Normal.
Meanwhile, for those actors who are not celebrities or in the lead role, they still command the minimum base salary and generally not more than that. Though, a performer’s role in a show can cause his/her pay to rise slightly depending on exactly what that role is. For instance, if you are a performer who is also a dance captain, your minimum salary increases by $300. If you are an assistant dance captain, it increases $150. For each principal role that you are understudying, your minimum increases $33. For every performance in which you, as an understudy, actually end up playing that principal role, you get an extra 1/8 of your weekly salary. Tony nominated lead actors normally see a $500 per week pay bump while winners can see that number climb to $1000 per week.
Broadway touring shows see a similar pay structure for the cast of the mammoth shows. Actors in Wicked, Jersey Boys, Book of Mormon and The Lion King work off a production contract that pay out $1754 per week minimum and most trend closer to $2000 per week. Not lucky enough to be in a box office smash? Actor salaries for other Equity shows (Peter Pan, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) can run as much as half those figures. Actors will normally take part in a profit-sharing type arrangement once the shows clear their initial production costs, commonly referred to as overages.
Their brethren Off-Broadway aren’t quite as lucky. Equity minimums can range from $440 to $763 per week. Couple that with the fact that fewer than 15% of dues-paying Actor’s Equity members work during a given week, and you’ve got a successful career as a waitress propping up your Broadway dreams.
Ultimately, the way of the theatre does not differ too much from the way of Hollywood. The bigger the star you are and the bigger the role you have, the higher you are likely to get paid. So if you are pursuing a career on Broadway and you are not a huge celebrity, your best bet is to be the best at what you do. The better you are the more they will be willing to shell out to have you.
Author: Diamond Grant