312 Theater or Prison?

Some people don’t like to talk about their salaries, and it’s considered rude to ask, but let’s chuck that aside today, and talk about money.

In 2011, I worked steadily with only a few weeks between contracts.  I made somewhere between $25,000 and $26,000. It wasn’t the best financial year I have ever had, but it was the most I had made working in theater. I worked 6 separate contracts (some contracts were purely non-union, and some contracts hired union). My salary ranged from $325 a week, to $525 a week.  5 of those contracts provided food if I so chose to partake; three being dinner theaters, one being a resort, and one a tour. All contracts provided transportation.

I was listening to This American Life this morning, and Ira Glass said that it costs around $31,000 to keep one inmate in prison for a year in Missouri. That gave me pause. My best year of acting paid less than the cost to keep an inmate in prison in Missouri for a year? Now that’s something to ponder!

The wheels started turning, and I was researching online like a mad woman. In my craziness I found THIS article in the NY Times about the cost of prison, and it’s worth a read.  The article states that it costs $167,731 a year to keep an inmate in prison in NYC.  That figure is 56% more than what Broadway minimum salary pays for a year. From the NYTimes : “The Vera Institute of Justice released a study in 2012 that found the aggregate cost of prisons in 2010 in the 40 states that participated was $39 billion.” A $39 billion dollar industry? Maybe I went into the wrong profession!

My purpose is not to proclaim “Down with the prison system!”, or “Actors need a higher salary!”  I am not educated enough on the topic to make claims on any side of the argument. But, maybe it’s worthwhile looking into a career working with prison theater programs. I am sure there is money to be made, and good to be done.


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