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The financial extremities of this business called show

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There are two headlines on The Stage website today that grabbed my attention, and prove the financial extremes of this business we called show.

On the one hand, business on Broadway is booming – just as it is in the West End, which year-on-year posts record surges. In the 2013/14 season just ended, Broadway shows took some $1.27 billion — thanks partly to a hike in attendance on the previous year (up 5.6%), but even more than that, thanks to a hike in ticket prices paid (revenues were up 11.4% overall, more than double the percentage increase in attendees, while number of performances given were down from 1,538 playing weeks in 2012 to 1,395 playing weeks last year).

On the other hand, income for actors is plummeting. According to the results of a survey by casting website Casting Call Pro of 1,700 actors, “46% made less than £1,000 last year from acting jobs and 30% earned between £1,000 and £5,000. Just 2% earned £20,000 or more.”

It’s stating the obvious to point out that there’s a lot of money being made in the theatre, but only a few actors are the beneficiaries. But then this is a supply and demand business, and there are many more people still wanting to forge a career as actors – whatever the cost and whatever other jobs they will need to do to sustain themselves. As CCP’s chief executive Phil Large commented,

The results clearly demonstrate how difficult it is for professional actors to make a decent living in this tough industry. In particular the fact that 75% of actors earned less than £5,000 from acting in the last year. However, I doubt this will come as a big surprise or a deterrent to actors, who are more aware of the realities of the industry than ever before.

But as in society generally, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots is growing ever wider. Never has it been more true that you can’t make a living in the theatre, but you can make a killing – depending on who you are.

Even those headline Broadway statistics don’t tell the full picture, because as I wrote here in 2012 when that year’s statistics were published, a lot of the revenue and attendances were concentrated in just five shows. As my The Stage colleague and fellow blogger Howard Sherman pointed out in a posting of his own then,

Out of 72 possible productions, five shows yielded 33% of the gross revenues for the Broadway season and 25% of the audience. That’s an awful lot of firepower in only five theatres.

I’d be interested to know, given that four of those five shows are still running now (Phantom, Wicked, The Lion King and The Book of Mormon) and the fifth one ran for the first half of the season (Spider-man), if that has continued to be the case. There certainly hasn’t been an equivalent blockbuster join them since.



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