I work with actors on a daily basis. Actors spend a lot of money developing their craft. Classes, coaches, workshops, and headshots are not cheap. Then when all the effort and investment pays off and an actor gets hired for an AEA showcase or an independent film, that actor is often paid less than minimum wage.
Is your skill and craft worth less than $7.25/ hr? (the current federal minimum wage. It’s $9/hr in CA and $8.75/hr in NY) Then why are you accepting so little for your work? I’ve touched on this subject before, but now with a new AEA 99 seat contract looming in LA, the question remains. Why don’t actors think they’re worth minimum wage?
The debate over the new 99 seat contract in LA is about paying actors minimum wage for their rehearsal and performance time. Producers and actors have come out overwhelmingly AGAINST paying actors minimum wage. We want to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers, security guards, and retail employees, but when it comes to acting, even actors are against paying themselves minimum wage. That, my friends, is messed up.
The answers I most often hear are: If I ask for more money, they’ll just go with someone else or The theatre can’t sustain itself if we pay actors minimum wage.
Let’s start with the first one. You may be right, if you ask for more money you may be passed over in favor of someone cheaper. In a relationship, if you assert your value and make it clear that you won’t date a cheater, your girlfriend may break up with you, but who wants to date a cheater? Who wants to work on a project where your skills aren’t valued? If your answer is, “I do.” That, my friends, is messed up.
I work with film students on a daily basis and somewhere along the line, they’ve been told that actors are a dime a dozen and that you don’t have to pay actors or treat them well and you’ll still get what you need from them.
Now, imagine that if in the above sentence, I replaced “film students” with “men” and “actors” with “women”. It would read:
I work with men on a daily basis and somewhere along the line, they’ve been told that women are a dime a dozen and that you don’t have to pay women or treat them well and you’ll still get what you need from them.
We’re outraged at blatant sexism but disrespect for acting doesn’t seem to ruffle any one’s feathers. We demand equal pay for women but balk at paying actors minimum wage. That, my friends, is messed up.
The second argument is that the theatre won’t survive if actors get paid minimum wage. To that I say: okay. If theatres fold because they can’t afford to pay actors a minimum wage, then so be it. They clearly have a flawed business model if they are reliant on an underpaid workforce. Wouldn’t we say the same thing about a business that paid low wages under the table to undocumented workers and then forced them to work in substandard conditions? Why do actors think they deserve to be treated this way? That, my friends, is messed up.
My hope is that by collectively asserting the value of acting, actors will actually be able to make a living from their work. Actors and non-actors: let’s talk about why this under valuing of acting talent exists and what we can do to make a lasting change.