Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pay your Actors!

Edd, Yancey, and Korina getting ready at the Dunbar Cave Night Walk

So I had the joy of having my first professional acting gig ever this past Saturday. When I revealed this to everyone as I was celebrating many of them inevitable asked me, "How can you have done so much in the theatre in this town and have this be your only paying gig".There seem to be two unwritten conflicting assumptions in the Small-Town theatre world. 1) "I pay a lot of money for these community tickets, these actors have to be getting some of it." This usually comes from the audience members. The second assumption comes from the people on or behind the stage. 2) "This is Community Theatre here, nobody gets paid."

Edd, Yancey, and Dillon having a little fun.

The question of whether or not to pay the people working in your small theatre is a hard one. An even bigger problem is how much of the money to pay them. Here are some point of the reasons why a lot of small theatre's don't pay their talent and a lot of reasons why they should.

Why People Don't Pay Their Talent

  • We don't make a lot of money!
  • All of us have other survival jobs surely they get paid enough there!
  • We're not a professional company. Don't professional companies have to deal with a lot legal issues?
  • We don't have that many people coming in to fill the seats or auditioning for shows.
Theatre Ninja Vanish!

Why Paying People is a VERY Good Idea

  • It doesn't cost as much as you think: As long as you become committed to the idea of making a living off of the theatre and keeping your company thriving you ARE a professional theatre. A simple way of paying your actors off is the "profit sharing plan". When you count up the money after breaking even on the show. (This should be 30%-50% of what a full house is btw). After that all of the extra money is spread evenly amongst all of the people who worked on the show at some point that week. I can already hear people screaming at me now.  "But I could be using that money to pay for the next show's expenses!" You HAVE to start thinking of your actors and crew as a valuable production expense that needs to be paid for their services. While this method won' make them rich and famous it   does get you into a very good habit that keeps them coming back.
  • Paid Actors and crew start to treat your company as their job: With just a little bit of money in their pockets your people are going to become dedicated to making your company work, make money, and grow. They'll start acting better in rehearsal, they'll start acting more professional, and most of all they'll be coming back to do another show with you. Most small theaters go out of business because actors find better jobs somewhere else or get burnt out trying to make this "hobby" fit in their lives. Money gives them a great incentive to keep them coming.
  • Cast and crew become your best salesmen: When an actor knows that a full house means they get more money they will go out of their way to fill those seats. Cast and Crew have the "gimmee" seats. Those are family, friends, coworkers, and loved ones that come to see the show just because someone they know is in it. The cast will stop asking for free tickets for these people and will stop at nothing to get them in the seats. You will start to see ticket sales go up and you'll be able to break even quicker. 
So you can see that the simple act of paying the actors the few extra dollars that you have lying around pretty much trump every argument that you could ever make about not paying them. Every small town has it's starving artists...especially the performing arts. It's when you start investing into them and treating them like the professionals that you are that you take the first steps of having a budding theatre industry in your town.

Edd, Korina, and the rest of the cast spending our newly made money.

"Where are you, disembodied voice of the Headless Horseman?"

Disclaimer Time: Obviously I'm not a lawyer or a business executive type. Always check with a lwayer or trusted expert before you do anything money related. Paying people always brings in things like taxes and other stuff like that. I'm just the guy with good sense not a law degree.

Any of you guys out there felt the squeeze when it comes to volunteering in the theatre? Any of you have any questions or ideas to share? Please feel free to post a comment below.