In late November of last year, the Actors’ Equity Association and the Off-Broadway League agreed to a five-year contract that would affect the earnings of theatre professionals. This affects stage managers and actors who not only work in commercial theaters but also those working in the non-profit locations around the city. The exact details of the contract have not been released yet but it is being called “historic.”
The negotiations lasted six months before an agreement was met. Here are five reasons why this contract is important, not only to theater professionals, but to audiences and the city.
1. This agreement continues to allow artists, both stage actors and those behind the scenes, the ability to continue to follow their passions.
Let’s face it, we go to the theater because we love the stories, we love the songs, and we love the productions. Without the long hard work crews and cast put into performing hundreds of shows from the beginning of the show until the end, these shows would not draw the attendances they do. One of the main tourist destinations is Broadway and with the popularity of its shows, many visitors to New York opt for an Off-Broadway production.
It’s a fact, the theater is an important part of the New York landscape and economy. Just a few weeks back, November 11, 2016, to be exact, Hamilton took the top earner’s spot at the box office pulling in more than three million dollars in one week. The Lion King came in second with a mere $2,496,332.
This type of revenue brings in tremendous amounts of tax dollars to this cosmopolitan location and there is no doubt that a lot of the importance lies in the hands of the staff. It all goes back to the performances in the end. Without the hard work of the cast and crew, the seats would not be so full. So, keeping them in a place to be free to work on their craft is important not only for them but imperative to the performances.
2. Theater professionals can afford to live in an expensive city.
New York City is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire world. A Manhattan flat with a murphy bed that passes as a studio apartment in other cities can run a person more than a half a million dollars. We aren’t sure if New Yorkers realize that they can double the size of their property in most other areas of the United States and triple it in others with what they are paying for small residences in New York.
Yet, we can hear the New York collective say, “Then you aren’t living in New York” after reading that last sentence. We understand. The whole point of performing in New York is exactly how Sinatra put it, making it there ensures your success anywhere. It makes perfect sense that if we want stellar Broadway productions then New York must make it reasonable for someone to live there while performing.
Of course, Manhattan is one of the pricier, if not priciest, parts of the city, yet real estate in Brooklyn, which is a much farther trek to the theater, is still nearly $400,000 for a two-bedroom condo. These prices aren’t cheap and, when compared with the minimum wage for and Off-Broadway theater professional at $593 a week, the juxtaposition makes the remedy clear.
Having a continuously thriving theater district in New York City requires a livable wage for theater professionals. It isn’t their fault they have to live in such an expensive city.
3. This Actors Equity agreement sets an example of how important a livable wage on a national level.
There is no way anyone reading this can’t be aware of the current fight for a minimum wage increase to fifteen dollars an hour predominantly run by fast food employees. Okay, maybe some of you missed this but trust us, there is a big debate regarding this going on in several political circles. The premise for the sides arguing in favor of raising the minimum wage agree that if someone works a full-time job they should be able to afford life’s necessities.
With this five-year contract, once again, artists and those within the artistic community are setting an example of how important a livable wage is for everyone. Just as it is important for theater professionals to earn enough to live, this ideology applies to everyone.
Actor Stanley Bahorek wrote in an article back in October that he was not able to meet his rent while acting in New York. He said that he “was paid $218 and $300 per week” when working on two Off-Broadway musicals. Broken down to an hourly wage that is barely enough to make it in most of the country let alone making that stretch to cover New York prices.
4. It sets an example in the importance of equal pay.
Another point of contention lately, most with women and people of color, is the importance of equal pay for equal work. This is another area where this new agreement has an opportunity to set a president. The president of the Off-Broadway League, Adam Hess, is quoted saying that Off-Broadway has been a continually “fair and progressive leader” regarding equality “in the theater community.”
He went on to say that Off-Broadway has “been at the forefront of diversity” and they “are proud to…support…actors and stage managers with a fair wage.” With this new agreement, “all Off-Broadway houses will be represented under one contract.”
5. It promotes diversity in New York theater.
It is inevitable that with the idea of fair wages people of all races and backgrounds who dream of making it on Broadway will continue to flock there in droves. True, New York is known for its diversity and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. Still, in the early stages of the 21st century, this is a trend we would like to see continue in New York theater. Offering equal wages will help.
Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity board said that they “are thrilled at the result and overjoyed to be able to continue creating some of the most dynamic, exciting and creative theater in the world.” For us, we are thrilled that workers, namely actors and stage managers, and administrations, the Actors’ Equity and Off-Broadway League, could compromise and come to such a quick agreement.
The most important thing this contract ensures is that the next five years of New York theater will continue to be fantastic.