The theatrical actors' union, Actors' Equity, reports that its members earned a record 287,416 "workweeks" (weekly paychecks) for the 1998-1999 theatrical season. Equity also reported that overall employment rose 5.3 percent for the same period.
Having announced the fourth consecutive, annual record number of workweeks for a theatrical season, Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg predicted measured growth in certain areas for his membership. Equity will now be focusing on certain key areas, including non-Equity dinner theatres and not-for-profit theatres.
"We're pretty pleased," Eisenberg told Playbill On-Line, referencing a comprehensive report on Equity membership and earnings that was printed in the Dec. 1999 issue of Equity News. Equity assistant executive director for national administration and finance, Guy Pace compiled the union report. Pace's report summarizes employment and membership figures by geographic region and Equity's employment categories -- Principal, Chorus and Stage Managers.
"We're making progress but we have to keep pushing forward," said Equity's Eisenberg. "We're also going to be addressing non-Equity Bus and Truck companies and business theatre -- these are areas that we can develop. I also think we can get some more workweeks out of LORT (League of Resident Theatres) because their health has improved."
Eisenberg said that Equity was already seeing results in other areas targeted by the union. "We spent a lot of time with 'developing companies,' " Eisenberg said. "Keep in mind that the developing theatre category didn't really exist 15 or 16 years ago, and now it is big time business." So big, in fact, that Equity News said developing theatre companies account for $18,225,230 of Equity's annual earnings, a full 7.5 percent of the union's total for all contract types and regions combined. Eisenberg said developing theatre ranked as Equity's third largest category after Production and LORT.
For the 1998 - 1999 theatrical season, Equity members produced a total of $244 million in earnings.
Equity reported slight declines in the number of Production Contract workweeks (3 percent) and in Western Region workweeks (down to 48,291 from 49,160 last season).
While the overall Equity figures are encouraging and progress is predicted in the coming year, the union did provide a realistic profile of today's working actor. Equity has more than 40,000 members, but only 16,340 (43 percent) worked during the year for an average of 17.6 weeks. Even fewer, just 5,802, worked on average each week. The median annual income for a member of Equity was $6,261, the union reports, and average annual earnings were $14,936.
"People can't -- and do not -- live on that," Eisenberg said.
-- By Murdoch McBride