Sunday, September 18, 2011

Should Actor Stipends Be Paid Over a Longer Period?

Posted by Bruce Miller
Chase Kniffen, our associate artistic director, has suggested a pretty interesting idea. If you're an actor who works or would like to work with Barksdale Theatre and/or Theatre IV, I'd be pleased to hear your opinion.

The idea is this. Currently we pay a stipend to non-union actors on a per performance basis. What if those actors were to receive the exact same amount of money for their work on a production, but that money would be divided up into bi-weekly payments over the entire work period (rehearsal and performance) rather than per performance payments over the performance period only? The total received by the actor would be the same, but it would be paid out on a bi-weekly basis beginning with the first day of rehearsal.

Let me be clear. The actors would not be receiving any additional money, or any less money, but they would be receiving it over a longer period of time which would include the rehearsal period. The checks would be smaller, but they would be spread out over a longer period of time to include rehearsals, so the total amount received would be the same.

Please let me also acknowledge that the money we pay to our non-union actors is too little. We all wish it could be more. We all know it should be more. We're working our hardest to increase contributions and ticket sales so that one day it can and will be more.

One reason this plan of beginning payments following the first rehearsal is being suggested is because actors begin incurring expenses on that date, but as things now stand, they don't start receiving their stipends until after Opening Night. Also, expectations for professional job performance are the same during the rehearsal period as the performance period, so why shouldn't the timeline of payments reflect this?

If you'd like to voice an opinion, we'd love to hear it. Don't let the bi-weekly (every other week) timeline be a stumbling block. If you love the idea of the spread out payments, let us know. If you really prefer the checks to be weekly rather than bi-weekly, let us know that too.

We're very interested in your opinions. Thanks in advance for sending them in. If enough actors want us to make this change, we're going to make it. If enough actors prefer to maintain the status quo, we're going to do that.

You can respond anonymously, if you must, but we'd love to know who feels what, if you're comfortable providing your name. You can comment to this post, or you can send me an email. My coded email address can be found at the end of the previous blog. If you need assistance figuring out the code, call my assistant, Brittany Taylor, at 783-1688, ext 1113.

Thanks for your consideration.

--Bruce Miller


debra wagoner said...

I wish like anything we could get rehearsal pay. However small the amount. Because it is a time of very hard work. That being said, once the show is open, I throw my vote in for being paid once a week. I think spreading out what would be made for performances over the entire pay schedule just so we could get "pay" during rehearsal would make for some pretty depressing numbers on the paychecks. Maybe it is not logical thinking, but it's a feeling I have more than anything to do with being ration.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, sounds good. However, I would suggest thinking of what would happen if someone completes most of the rehearsals, was getting paid and then quits or has to leave for medical, family etc. The other thing you can do is if someone is making $40 a performance, offer $30 and then at the end of the contract, have a completion of contract bonus which is made up of all the extra $10.

Anonymous said...

Actors should definitely be compensated for their rehearsal time. However, they should be making the same amount per rehearsal that they would be per show. Having worked at several regional theaters across the country, I can tell you that there are theaters out there that have a significantly smaller operating and production budget and manage to pay their actors better. If Barksdale wants to compete in a larger regional market, they need to increase the pay of their actors.

Bruce Miller said...

I agree with the first half of the last statement. We're working on it. With regard to the second half, based on info available in national professional theatre surveys, Barksdale pays non-AEA actors total amounts that are slightly hire than the national average.

John said...

At every theater I've worked at EXCEPT Barksdale and Theatre IV, if a show is cancelled for any reason due to weather, low ticket sales, or unforseen circumstances, the actors still make the same amount each week. Since the theaters in town pay their actors "per show", if a show is cancelled or something happens, they miss a paycheck. Or, for example, sometimes you have different numbers of shows each week (i.e. a Wednesday matinee one week, but not another one the following week) - the number of shows fluctuates, thereby changing the guaranteed amount of income the actor has each week. If you're going to pay an actor $400 a week, which is the national minimum, they should expect that same amount each week, no matter how many shows they do. This is also true of rehearsal time (which I agree that it's time to pay for)

Bruce Miller said...

Well, John, if you've been working at theatres that pay the "national minimum" of $400 a week, you're a VERY fortunate man, and you should go back to working at those theatres. You'd be crazy not to.
I have no idea where you're getting that "national minimum" figure for non-AEA actors. A very considerable percentage of AEA contracts pay less than $400 a week. Please site your sources for this "national minimum."

debra wagoner said...

Well, I see I wrote "ration" instead of "rational". Which of course in some people's opinions means that everything I said now means nothing. Oh well. But now that I've cleared that up, I would be happy for now with say, a rehearsal stipend. Maybe something that would not blow the budget to smithereens, but just SOMETHING to say that you recognize that it's a time of great work and sometime around tech week, a check comes to say "Hey, don't stick a fork in your eye, we appreciate you. And we're in the home stretch, opening night is in sight!" Ok, that's my last thought. And pardon any typos. I'm typing in a hurry right now. Oh, and the word verification is unhor. Something we should all strive to do. lol

Mark Persinger said...

Bruce - That's a great question and I thank you for the opportunity to give an opinion. I work full time, so I have income coming in consistently and do not rely on my theatre income for day to day living expenses. So I think I would be in favor of staying with the current process. However, I also know that there are many actors who do not have the luxury I do and who depend on their show income to make ends meet. Clearly getting income from the start of rehearsals would potentially help them. That being said, I would ask you to give more weight to the opinions of those who rely more on their theatre income.

But let me ask this, if the payroll process remained the same (every two weeks) would it be possible to offer both options and let the actors choose? I might be wrong, but I have always thought that it is better for the theatre to wait to pay the actors until the show has opened since that is when you collect the bulk of your non-subscription ticket revenue. The question is, if you have a couple of shows in rehearsal at the same time (and none open) would it benefit the theatre to only have to pay some of the actors starting at the beginning of the rehearsal process? Obviously the benefit would have to be weighed against whatever increased complexity would result in splitting up when you start paying the cast.

Mark Persinger

Augustin said...

I'm coming in on this late, but I think it is a great question. Personally, I think I would take the option of having smaller paychecks more often and throughout rehearsal, because I regularly find myself waiting for my pay, holding off on buying one thing or another at the store, etc., while I am rehearsing a show. I think Mark is dead on about the option, but I wonder how much trouble it is for accounting to keep up with that.
Also....$400 average? I can only guess that if $400 is some kind of average, Angelina, Bernadette, and a host of other big earners are being AVERAGED in with all the rest of the summer-stockers and day-jobbers. I am with Bruce. That needs a fact check like Sarah Palin.

FactChecker said...

@Augustin: When Bernadette Peters starred in Gypsy and Annie Get Your Gun, Variety magazine reported that she got 10% of the weekly take in. So if the show made $600,000 one week, she earned $60,000. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick earned $100,000 when they came back to do "The Producers" for their second stint...per week. Hugh Jackman made $50,000 a week (Source: TimeOut NYC) for "Boy From Oz." Most chorus people/ensemble make $1465 (Equity minimum) on "The Broadway." So I'd say $400 a week for non-union theater as an average is not a bad guess, nor a bad figure. An article in the Chicago Tribune posted January, 28, 2007, talked about actor salaries, and at the time, it stated: "At the other end of the spectrum are non-Equity actors appearing in fringe and storefront productions. They can make from $0 - you read that right - to $200 a week." I'd say that with that article having come out in 2007 and it being 2011 now, you can guess that wages would reasonably have gone up a bit in the last few years. You can also check, and many non-Equity theaters post their salaries and benefits on that site. This is not a Sarah Palin "gotcha" scheme - it's the truth! Obviously Richmond theaters do not have the big budgets of Broadway, DC, and other large markets, nor is anyone asking to be greedy. But there are some people in the community who wish they could make theater their job and not just a livelihood, and work fairly consistently, but yet they still get tuppence for their work and time. There must be a better solution, even if that's stretching out the paychecks longer.

Bruce Miller said...

We've gone from "John's" original assertion that "the national MINIMUM" salary for non-AEA actors is $400 per week, to the national "AVERAGE" for ALL actors, including AEA mega-stars being $400 a week. I can believe the latter. I still don't believe the former.