Broadway actors are paid handsomely, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the median wage for a Broadway performer is $57,930 per year, making it one of the highest paying jobs in America. However, the average pay for a Broadway performer is actually lower than what many people think. Most performers earn less than $50,000 annually, while some make considerably less than that.
The BLS reports that the median annual salary for a Broadway performer is just over $57,000. Of course, those numbers don’t include bonuses or benefits, such as health insurance. But for the majority of performers, salaries vary widely depending on how long they’ve been working on Broadway. For example, the median salary for a performer with 10–19 years experience is about $56,000; for 20–29 years, it’s around $54,500; and for 30+ years, it’s roughly $65,000.
Job Description: The Reality of Being a Broadway Actor
Broadway leads don’t usually get cast as the “lead” right away. It may never happen. The casting director may not even cast you on your first audition – how well you interpret the script, any part of it, and how it represents the writer’s vision for the character accurately and engagingly is all that matters.
A producer, casting director, director, and scriptwriter may ask you to audition again if you receive a “call-back” after your audition. As a lead, you will spend hours on stage and memorize a lot of lines, but as a background actor, you will only have to speak a couple of lines or no lines at all. A chorus role in a Broadway musical is a non-speaking but dancing and singing role.
Many cast members spend countless hours practicing before, during, and after a show’s run, polishing their performances and making adjustments. The audience never sees or hears a complete production exactly the way it was written in television or film, and the scripts are often altered up until or after a scene has been recorded. Actor and consultant David Patrick Green explains that when someone thinks they know the material, they want to hear it “exactly as it was written,” and know when it has changed because they are no longer familiar with it.
There is also a significant difference between acting for television and movies and acting on stage. The average distance between the performers and the audience on stage is 100 feet or more, according to Green. As a result of this, stage actors are always taught to “act for the back row.” In television or film acting, since you can always see yourself and the microphone allows you to speak more naturally, the only thing you need to do is move and speak so that the other characters in the scene can see and hear you. As Green noted in Backstage.com’s article, “for television or film acting, if someone is three feet away, act as if they are three feet away. If they are fifty yards away, act as if they are fifty yards away.”
The “iconic nature” of characters and the celebrated performances of those characters marks a third major difference between stage and television or film acting, according to Green. William Gillette played Sherlock Holmes in a production that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle co-wrote in 1899, for example. As a Connecticut actor, Gillette is credited with the introduction of the curved Calabash pipe – originally imagined and written by Doyle as a straight pipe made from briar – and “Elementary, my dear fellow!” The University of California at Berkeley’s Film Professor Russell Merritt says that no actor has ever consciously or intuitively portrayed Holmes as Gillette.
Films and television are included in this. Green says you are unlikely to play the same character more than once in television or film acting, unlike on stage. Producing a film or television project requires some version of you, not the character that first captivated an audience decades ago.
An actor, in general, works long hours, including weekends and evenings. Broadway producer Ken Davenport says: “We don’t punch clocks.” In his blog, “The Producer’s Perspective,” he explains: “Office hours may be 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., but everyone works for the love of it. “I only want to work with people who love what they do. If you love what you do, you won’t be watching the clock.”
A Broadway cast member can work up to eight shows in a single week, covering a maximum of six of seven days, whether it’s in a theater, on location, or in an “open air” production. Also, actors may travel if they’re in a touring production. Also, shows may routinely schedule five shows over the course of three days, and can set six shows over the course of three days “no more than 12 times over the course of a year.”
Performing frequently means actors must be prepared to go onstage whenever the curtain rises. When not performing, cast members must rest their voice.
How Much Do Broadway Actors Make?
According to CareerTrend.com, actors who are members of Actor’s Equity Association receive an average weekly wage of $1,653 for either musicals or dramas, as of August 2019, while those working a split week, or one half of a full week’s worth, receive an average weekly wage amounting to $952.
Weekly increments are also added for certain duties or performances, such as those playing a specialty part, and, in musical productions, those who are dance captain receive an additional $300.60 per performance.
Lastly, if an actor is required to move sets, that performer receives $8 more per week, as does anyone else working on stage.
However, according to Playbill. com, pay for Broadway cast varies depending upon the star power of the performer, the type of show being produced, the size of the audience, and the demands of role being played.
Actors don’t always need a four-year degree to make it big on Broadway. While many traditional acting schools require students to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), there are plenty of options out there that offer degrees in theatre arts.
Theatre companies around the world offer several types of training programs, including conservatories and university programs. Some universities even offer degrees specifically geared towards theatrical studies.
Broadway performers usually start off working on smaller productions before making the leap to bigger venues. There are many ways to prepare yourself for success, whether you’re looking to work on regional productions or join a major touring company.