While speaking with an actor recently about some new audition opportunities, an interesting question came up: “How can I make a livable wage as an actor in Colorado?” I've been working as a producer, director and actor in Denver for more years than I care to admit, and I can honestly say that I don't know the answer to that question. However, this question did inspire me to look at why it is that I don't know the answer to that question, and to take a look at the other common (and very similar) questions I often hear.
How much do you get paid as an actor or crew member?
It's a question that many actors and technicians get asked over and over again, and many struggle with just how to answer that question. If you are not equity, and in Colorado there is a far greater amount of work for those that are non-equity, then you really don't have a shot at making a livable wage as an actor or theatre technician in Colorado. Sure, a few very rare folks find a way to make that work, but for the vast majority of them, it's payment with a hug, or perhaps a bottle of scotch. Other than that, some theatre companies are able to offer a stipend of $100 or $200 for the run of a show. That's the total amount – for all the rehearsal time and performances combined.
But I pay as much as $30 a ticket to see theatre, how come you don't make any of that?
Well, to answer that, it's important to look at what it costs to actually put on a production. You've got to pay for the space, the royalties and the costumes. Not to mention the set construction and paint, set decoration, props, marketing, website fees, and printing. With all of those costs, budgets for the smaller-house theatre companies range from as low as $4,000 per show and up to $30,000 per show. With ticket prices averaging approximately $22 in the area, you can do the math and see why there isn't much money left over to actually pay the talent. If a 100 seat theatre puts on a show that costs $15,000 to produce, and sells tickets at $20 for eight performances, then there is a potential income of $2,000 per night. Over the course of eight performances, that means that the total possible income for the entire show is $16,000, leaving just $1,000 to pay all of the actors, technicians, musicians, and designers. True, this is a more extreme example, but it does illustrate the problem.
It's not community theatre – it is the community's theatre.
Is there a solution?
That's an excellent question. It seems that the only solution is for theatre companies to find alternative ways of bringing in money. Grant writing, season sponsors, show donors, etc. The more ways that the community can come together to help support a theatre, the more it can thrive and continue to raise the bar and bring better and more exciting shows to the stage. It's not community theatre – it is the community's theatre.
So that seems like a good idea. Let's do that.
Yes, let's do that. Of course, the next problem is the hours needed to find all these mysterious donors. Most theatre producers also have day jobs to help pay the bills, so finding volunteers to help with the fundraising aspect is crucial. This is where the community has to help. If you go to a theatre, if you love the shows that they do and you want them to continue to thrive in your community, then the best thing you can do is help. Pull the producer aside next time you are there and offer your time. A few hours a week would go a long way to helping keep your community's theatre successful and thriving.