Last week, I got to go see Clive Owen make his Broadway debut in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Old Times. I also had a little too much wine beforehand. As such, the following is not a review.
Old Times is by Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter and is a so-called “memory play”… this is theater-speak for difficult to follow.
Old Times was also an unusually brief theater experience, a mere 67 minutes. In the short time I was seated in the American Airlines Theater a lot of urgent questions came up for me…not all these questions were related to Pinter’s abstract script. See below:
How much are tickets to Old Times on Broadway…per minute?
By my calculations, anywhere from $1.25 – $5 or more per minute if you buy directly from the box office. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe they should have inserted some more of Pinter’s famous pauses (google: “Pinter pause”) to add value for the audience.
How much does the show cost the The Roundabout Theatre Company…per minute?
A silly question, maybe, considering all the preliminary work that goes into a large-scale production like Old Times. But interesting because Roundabout is the nation’s largest 501c3 not-for-profit theater company.
Apparently, they also have to publish a public financial report which would answer the question of how much the production costs. This report will come out next year so stay tuned (Roundabout is likely back in the black thanks to a network of donors and subscribers after a recession that hit the arts hard). But the financial report will not explicitly answer the next question…
How much does Clive Owen make…per minute?
An internet search for “Clive Owen salary” reveals that Clive Owen may be one of the highest paid actors in the world…but there is little to be found regarding compensation for his theater work. Clive Owens, if I had to take a not-very-educated guess, is making less than the $150,000 per week Julia Roberts reportedly made for her star-turn in Three Days of Rain. Let’s say he makes the same $40,000 Patti Lupone allegedly pulled in for the last Broadway revival of Gypsy. It is not-for-profit after all, it’s a meaty role that Clive expressed great interest in and it is not like he needs the money.
So let’s say $40,000. He performs for a total of 536 enigmatic, sexually-charged minutes per week. That is a total of 74.63 unconfirmed US Dollars per minute of stage time. It’s not Hollywood money but it’ll pay the bills.
I won’t touch the issue of wage inequality based on gender…and the question of how much Clive’s Tony-nominated female co-star Eve Best might be making. But I’m all over the implications for income inequality…
How about the other workers on the show: what do they make?
A living wage.
The New York theater industry is heavily unionized. FOX News aired an interview a few years back with Broadway producer Barry Habib of Rock of Ages, in which he knocked the influence of organized labor. In fact, as many as 17 unions represent workers and artists in some Broadway productions, many under the umbrella of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). This ensures that, in an industry that is VERY fickle and precarious, all workers involved are paid a living wage as long as the show is running and enjoy benefits such as health insurance long after it closes.
By the way, producers have been known to complain about the high cost of the acting talent as a percentage of their total costs when negotiating with the actor’s union, Actor’s Equity Association (AEA). But Equity does not negotiate star salaries; they simply negotiate minimums. So a union can not be blamed for the star salaries here as much as the star’s agents and the stars themselves…and maybe a little bit the audience that flocks to see such stars.
What does Old Times have to teach us?
There has been a lot of buzz recently on the “Hollywood” business model: a short-term, project-based model of employment. In a world of work increasingly precarious, movies create a ton of good quality, high-paying jobs…so much so, that cities throughout the US now offer tax credits to lure production. In large part, this is due to the unions that represent many of the workers. But it was Broadway that wrote the book on equitable pay for skilled temporary workers.
If producers bemoan the cost of doing business on Broadway as compared to, say, London, it is because everyone gets paid more over here. Broadway theater professionals can, unlike their counterparts in London, afford to live within the city limits. That includes dressers and stage technicians as well as stars like Clive Owen living the proverbial American Dream. No wonder our stages and films are filled with Brits.
Roundabout reports that 70% of its “salaries and benefits” costs are paid under collective bargaining agreements, that is to say, negotiates by unions. In my mind, that is all the more reason to subscribe.
The revenue from your ticket to Old Times goes to support a not-for-profit institution that manages to pay equitable salaries for hundreds of Americans. Pat yourself on the back. You can feel good about supporting the theater.
Oh ya: Old Times is also an important British play from an important British playwright with a big-name British movie star…and you’ll be out by 9:30.
Professional actor turned hotel concierge, Dana Steer arrived in New York to pursue a career on the musical stage in 2000. Work as an actor came and went—and Dana found opportunity to explore many other professions and interests. He eventually settled into a job in New York’s robust hotel industry. His professional life in the arts and the hotel industry has been shaped by unions: Actor’s Equity, SAG/AFTRA and more recently the New York Hotel Trades Council, the union of hotel workers. An interest in the world of work and social justice in the workplace brought Dana to the renowned Murphy Institute at CUNY SPS, where he is pursuing a Masters degree in Labor Studies. Dana is active in his union and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Carnegie Mellon University.