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Theatre: Supply and demand: the actors payment for National Tours

By Robert W. Bethune
ART TIMES February online 2014

As I write, I see that in a few days – January 27, to be precise—Actor’s Equity will hold a “town hall” meeting to discuss what their people get paid for performing in national tours of musicals. I would be willing to bet that similar gatherings have taken place for thousands of years. I can imagine the actors who performed at the Theater of Dionysus back before the birth of Christ probably had very similar discussion.

The issue is, as usual, slightly complicated—just enough for everybody to be able to point fingers at everybody else. The finances of national tours are disconnected from the finances of the Broadway productions of the same name. Furthermore, the foundation of the financing of a national tour is the guarantees given by the venues where the tour performs. Sane tour producers do not budget their productions for more than the sum of their guarantees. One way to manage this is directly at hand: performer salaries can be held down.

And why is that? For the same reason that has held true since the 5th century BC: supply and demand. There are many more skilled, talented performers than there is work for them. That was true in Athens and that is still true now. The economic pressures on performing artists are even higher than in other art forms. A painter can retire to his studio and paint, or a writer can curl up at her desk and write, but a performer needs a venue, an audience, an astonishing amount of stuff and additional artistic and technical support staff.

Equity undoubtedly has considerable justice on their side. That and some very hard work may be enough to improve matters, but as ever, Equity has a very strong tide it must swim against.

Bethune website:

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