Performing On Broadway: It Ain't for the Money, Or Is It?

Chris Peterson

Recently, a friend of mine was complaining about the high cost of tickets for a particular Broadway show.  "Don't these people make enough money as it is?", she exclaimed. 

And while I somewhat agree that $410.40 is a bit much for two mid-mezzanine tickets for Something Rotten! , I started to think about how much Broadway performers actually make. 

There's the old saying, "no one's in it for the money", and while Broadway performers today are certainly paid better than they used to, let's not start assuming they're now part of the 1%. There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at the reality of wages for actors these days, especially in NYC. 

As of August 2010, the minimum salary for an actor on Broadway is $1,605 per week. This is the minimum rate regardless of name, experience or celebrity though an actor and her agent are free to attempt to negotiate a higher rate if the producer will pay it.

Now while some of you might be thinking that sounds like a sweet deal. Consider a couple of things, the first being taxes. 

Working in New York City is expensive and it will take a toll on every paycheck. When entering $1,605 into a tax calculator for an employee in New York City, after deductions from not only Federal and State but also New York City(also without any allowances/withholdings added), you're looking at a net paycheck of $1,030. That's quite a hit. But we're not done yet. 

Then you have to figure in dues to Actors Equity. According to their website, Equity's dues structure has two components: Basic Dues, $118 per year, billed at $59 semi-annually each May and November. Working Dues, 2.25% of gross earnings under Equity contract, which are collected via weekly payroll deductions. So while not a huge deduction, its still a deduction from what you take home. 

And let's talk about home for a moment. If you're performing on Broadway, chances are you're living either in New York City or nearby. Right now the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in NYC is just over $3,000 a month. There goes your pay for the month. And unless you're planning on walking to the theater everyday, then you have to think about subway/train/taxi fares as well. At some point you also plan on eating right?

Oh, and remember there is no guarantee that you're going to be making this money for long, a show can close at anytime, with very little notice and there's no telling when you're going to get another gig. 

So the next time you think the reason tickets to these shows are so high, is because the actors are raking in high six-figure salaries, think again. Unless its Julia Roberts,  who reportedly  earned $150,000 per week for her role in Three Days of Rain.