The Green Room: What’s your opinion on the West End/Broadway pay gap?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Jon A report came out the other week that showed Broadway basic is four figures, much higher than in London even for the same part in the same show. What do you think?
Jenny I absolutely think we should be paid a lot more here. The gap is that Broadway’s basic is $2,000-ish, while here it’s £600-ish.
Rosemary Well, obviously we all think it’s fine!
Jenny But there are a lot more outgoings in the US. People are taxed through the nose – they pay agents and managers and sometimes lawyers. They also lose any benefits after a certain amount of time out of work (unemployment pay is for only six months) and there is no maternity pay and no NHS.
Rosemary So it’s all relative?
Jenny Bizarrely, it works out pretty evenly. But when the Americans go out on a number one tour they earn that salary and about $1,800 touring allowance. They save so much money.
Albert Bigger audiences in bigger theatres, and longer runs in bigger cities, equal more earning potential. I think this is all economies of scale.
Jon So is it just an apples-and-oranges comparison?
Albert Well, should we also mention the gap between West End and Broadway ticket prices – which help fuel the salaries?
Eoghan Without knowing too much about it, obviously it seems very unsatisfactory. But yes, West End ticket prices – high and all as they are – are still not as high as Broadway tickets.
Albert You can’t have cheap theatre and high salaries in the commercial sector.
Jon The two major factors are ticket prices and level of closed shop. While closed-shop unions aren’t legal in the US either, you pretty much can’t appear on Broadway unless you’re in the Actors’ Equity Association.
Albert It is amazing that in the free economy of the US, the union still has power, whereas over here ours is pretty useless.
Eoghan The point about the welfare state that Jenny makes is relevant too – though that’s clearly being undermined these days and with the cost of living and house prices/rents rising, wages certainly aren’t expanding at the right rates over here.
Jenny In West End jobs you have cast members doing part-time work on the side because the pay is so poor.
Jon Some other interesting figures: a dance captain in the West End gets a basic of £91 per week, on Broadway it’s $406 (£299). Ros, you may be interested to know that stage management basic for a musical on Broadway is $3,342 (or about £2,300) per week.
Ros What? Wow.
Eoghan Wow. That dance captain figure… That is madness.
Albert That dance captain figure is in addition to a salary, one assumes.
Rosemary I thought the dance captain was just a silly name we gave to someone who does the warm-up. For example, I could be sarcasm captain.
Jon I’ve seen a lot of “This is madness. Catch up, West End” conversations, without any examination of the differences or the nuances – but, at the same time, I’m not sure it’s helpful to say “ah well, it is what it is” either. These seem to be the two main positions people adopt on this one.
Albert Exactly. And, this is a different country with different rules, different working conditions, different costs of living, that we are talking about. What about television salaries? It’s exactly the same there with people getting $80,000 (£59,000) and upwards for an episode of a series, whereas here playing the major guest role in a BBC drama series such as Casualty, or whatever, can net you as little as £2,000 top whack.
Eoghan If the West End is meant to be the peak of the theatre industry, and the most commercially supported, the wages certainly don’t seem to be so wildly different to non-West End work. In the way that perhaps the wages at different levels in the financial sector or whatever would be.
Jon That’s a good point. There isn’t much of a salary jump for people going into town (unless they’re already stars).
Jenny It’s not as though we’re paid as “top of the league” in London, which is how London theatre is viewed in the world.
Eoghan Artists would regard themselves as pretty underpaid in general and the gradients don’t seem to scale too well. So the top level isn’t quite the hookers-and-cocaine wild ride that might be expected by some outsiders. I think outsiders would be surprised how low the pay is and how mundane the life is.
Albert It is amazing that there aren’t any structured deals where actors can opt to help bear the risk of the show. Percentage points should be added to the minimum, rather than a lot of people being paid the minimum, so that everyone benefits from full houses.
Jenny A show I did transferred from a large West End theatre to a smaller one and the leads took cuts in their salaries.
Jon The points scheme sounds interesting.
Albert People have to think about different ways to give people a share of the reward of a successful show – not just writers and directors but the people who do it night after night.
Jon And then we get on to things such as the people who do workshops getting points in the eventual show, too…
Albert No – they get a fee that covers their input. It has to be limited to people who are involved in the product that is sold – that’s what a show is.
Gary Money disputes are tedious. Let each actor/agent team scrap it out. It’s impossible to say what actors ‘deserve’.