Pay and Credit Negotiations
The big myth: You aren’t getting rich or famous doing Broadway. The reality is, you do not usually break even when doing a Broadway show if you are from out of town. Even if you live there, money is tight.
Every contract and every situation is different! It is strongly suggested getting an agent to negotiate a deal…don’t try to do this alone. Here are some tips from our experts:
- Non-union productions can pay anything, including nothing. So make sure to ask what exactly is included in the pay rate. They almost always pay less than union productions, averaging $400 – $1000 per week.
- Union productions (Equity and AGVA) have multiple contracts for different size theatres and show budgets. They have funny names like LORT, Equity Waiver (99 seat theatre) etc. This can really make things confusing. The thing to know is that Equity has a minimum pay rate for each contract and that is not negotiable downward. Contact Equity and ask what scale is for the contract the show works under. Then check the Equity site for the contract
- Almost all kids on Broadway make Equity minimum wage (not more). For a principal role that is currently $2168. The actors may get additional payments for holidays and public relations events.
- Remember, deducted from the gross pay is 15% for trust fund (CA and NY), 10% for agent, 15% for manager ( if you have one), and federal and state taxes. Broadway does handle trust fund deductions, but tours sometimes do not. If you live in CA or NY, or any of the other states with trust fund laws, you may have to deposit tour trust fund money yourself if the show doesn’t withhold and deposit it automatically. After all these deductions, you might break even if you live in New York City. If you live out of town, you are likely going to be in the red.
- Broadway shows don’t always pay your reps directly, so be aware that you may be responsible for sending your agent/manager their percentages.
Other negotiable items:
- Press time (to include the same press as the other child leads receive).
- per diem for both parent and child
- comp tickets to the show
- extra pay for public appearances
- final approval on tutors and wranglers
- private dressing room if there are no other children in the show.
- higher pay
- try to negotiate a guaranteed amount of performances if you are an understudy, or if the show content allows, being in the chorus if you aren’t understudying (so you get to perform at least).
- if you have a hugely important commitment during the run of the show, sometimes you can negotiate that day off if you do it before you sign. Ex. High school graduation, bar/bat mitzvah, family wedding, etc.
Reserve Funds and Living Expenses
Every theatre actor needs a “Plan B” for survival expenses, a “reserve fund”. Change is normal on Broadway (and in every other professional theatre). Shows close, kids get replaced for many reasons and labor disputes happen. A few years ago, the stage manager strikes left more than a few actor families stranded in NYC with no income.
Even in the best of circumstances, living expenses while a child is performing can be a challenge.
Our experts share these insights:
- Broadway does not pay for housing. Rarely, they will offer a one time relocation fee to a principal child that they really want (usually a name), but no regular per diem.
- On tours only: they generally pay a small “per diem” (about $100) and they will offer you hotel options that are grouped around 80% of your per diem. The rest can be used for food. That’s not much, so hotels that include breakfast are great. You are free to stay with relatives or wherever you choose.
- Taxes: YES, child actors file their own taxes (not on yours) and they pay them! You should consult a tax advisor on the tax laws in your state, and wisdom of incorporating vs. filing as an individual where the deductability of expenses is limited. Make sure to get tax advice!
- Comp tickets are usually for opening and closing shows and that’s all.
- Planning to try your hand at NYC for a few months? Most moms advise against it, primarily for financial reasons. You could easily go to NYC for 6 months and never get a theatre audition. Housing will cost you the most. Furnished housing in the theatre district is about $3500/mo for a furnished studio apartment with a 6 month lease. If you sign longer leases, you will get better rates, but what do you do if the show closes early, or your child grows 2 inches? Some opt to live in New Jersey and take busses and trains into town, but that can get expensive as well if your auditions, classes and meetings are in Manhattan.
- Food in Manhattan is very expensive. To give you an idea, Olive Garden in Times Square charges $25-$30 for an entrée. If you can get housing with a small kitchenette, or housing that is out of town but “home” you can make sure kids are getting healthy food for less money.
- If you are fortunate enough to make a cast album for a show (normally the original cast of a new show gets to do this), royalties are only due after the cost of making the album has been recouped. Most cast albums never recoup their cost, and those that do don’t hit that mark until 2-3 years after the album’s release.
- Gifting: It might surprise parents to know that opening night in the theatre is full of traditions and is valued more than closing night. On opening night it is customary for actors to share a small token gift with their cast and crew. Ideas we’ve received: thoughtful notes of encouragement, an apple in honor of the Barrymore family, a candle, a magnet with the show poster on it, custom cookies or, a single rose.
Tipping: It is customary to tip your child’s dresser and their wrangler. Average is $10-20 per week or perhaps a small gift.