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February 29, 2008

Making money as theater professionals

Bridgette Redman

Joe has raised an interesting issue--one that I would love to do further research on. In fact, I'd love to find a graduate student willing to do some in-depth quantitative research about theater as a career in flyover communities.

For a long time, all I ever heard was that if you wanted to make money in theater, you had to go to Chicago or New York. Lately, I've been wondering if that still holds true. Granted, you're unlikely to become rich or famous working in Michigan. Yet, there has been plenty of interesting anecdotal evidence in which people are moving back to Michigan to pursue theater and arts-related careers because this is where they want to live.

This despite the fact that we've had some pretty rough years as far as arts funding from the government goes. In fact, "pretty rough" is an understatement.

That said, in the past few years, two new Equity houses have opened in the state and I've talked to many performers who are choosing to stay here to make their living. Most of those people are those who can also teach--either at schools or in studio settings. They're also people who are versatile and willing to do commercial and industrial work.

My curiosity is aroused now: What does it take to make a livable career in theater and what sacrifices to you make to do so?

Posted by Bridgette Redman at February 29, 2008 7:58 AM


I've written about this sort of thing in a few places (Backstage Magazine, mainly), and found that the major acting "centers" (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles) are all very different environments. According to actors and agents I talked to, Chicago is different because the acting community plays all of the fields: stage, improv, voice-over, film, commercials, etc. Individuals are able to put together a living salary by dividing their time among many of those genres. By contrast, NY and LA seem to be places where you specialize and become known for one thing.
As for living wages in smaller communities, Milwaukee has a substantial group of actors who are at it full time, primarily in stage work. One of the boons here is the Milwaukee Repertory, which is one of the few theaters which has a Resident Acting Company. The 11 or so members of that company can count on at least 25 weeks a work per season, and can fill in around their Rep duties with work in other theaters. I know several actors here who have families, houses, etc.

Posted by: Paul Kosidowski at March 1, 2008 9:53 PM

From what I've observed locally, people tend to throw teaching into the mix. They grab the acting gigs whenever they can and then supplement with teaching and industrial films.

Others start their own theaters--though that's a risky, expensive way to go. I'm always glad when they do. They're brave souls. It doesn't seem like you should have to live in New York, L.A., or Chicago to make a living as an artist. After all, don't people in other cities want and need art just as much?

Posted by: Bridgette Redman at March 10, 2008 4:51 PM