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By now probably everybody has heard of the plan to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman. This was getting thrown around for a few months prior to this announcement, with many happy to finally see the President who engineered a genocide of native Americans get taken off of our currency.  A poll was put in place to determine who would be the best replacement (with a strong preference for a women or an African American).  While there’s always detractors to any argument, there was general consensus that not many people would miss Ole’ Hickory, and our money could strongly use some diversity to better represent the rich and diverse history of our nation.

So Harriet Tubman seems like a perfect fit.  A woman, an African American and a gigantic historic figure in our nation’s history.  However in the weeks and months leading up to the eventual decision there was actually a move away from Jackson and the 20 Dollar bill and an eye on the 10 dollar bill and the less known (and less controversial) Alexander Hamilton.  I assume this was meant to avoid any controversy that might be caused by ousting Jackson.

Now personally I didn’t quite know much about Hamilton, as I’m sure many people don’t know much.  I know he wasn’t president (“The Wire” reminded me of that), and if pressed I might be able to come up with the fact that he was the first Treasury Secretary, but other than that, I was lost.  So was this founding father about to get ousted from his spot on our currency simply because people weren’t abreast of his story?  Could a smash hit Broadway musical change that, and perhaps change history?  Is this real life?  It just might be…

Could a Broadway Musical Change History?

For those that have been under a rock for the past few months, “Hamilton: An American Musical” has become a transcendent success on Broadway, selling out every show and driving secondary market ticket prices to unprecedented levels.  It’s surpassed “Wicked the Musical” tickets’ prices (the next most popular show on Broadway) by a factor a 200-1000% percent!

Hamilton the Musical Official Broadway Poster

The musical has been credited with engaging the younger generation and informing them of their nation’s history in a way that is much more diverse (all the main characters are played by Black and Brown actors).  The show received praise directly from President Obama at this year’s Tony Awards.  Its soundtrack is a best seller and it will likely spawn a national tour whose shows sell out in minutes.  Its already made history on Broadway.

But its impact hasn’t stopped in the Theater District, it may have gone all the way to D.C. and our national currency.  Apparently the red hot popularity of the show has influenced a decision on how the $10 bill will be redesigned.  According to this article:

Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda said on Wednesday (Mar. 16) that he had received “multiple assurances” from Lew that admirers of Hamilton would “not be disappointed” by the new design.  Miranda met with Lew on Monday, before his visit to the White House(.)

“Lew” in this instance is Jack Lew, the current Treasury Secretary of the United States! Our Treasury Secretary basically ran it by a Lin-Manuel Miranda, assuring that fans of a broadway musical wouldn’t be disappointed with the new design of our legal tender.  I can’t be the only one amazed at that?

Conclusion(s)

What can we make of this?  I don’t want to overstate the importance or impact of a broadway musical, but I think there can be concensus over the fact that such an influence is not only remarkable but probably unprecedented.  Our national currency (while not as important as laws or policy) is an important reflection of what we respect as a country, it’s our face to the world.

This is why it has always been a terrible affront to Native Americans that we’ve had Andrew Jackson on the $20.  However our own general ignorance of Hamilton almost led us down the path of ditching him as well.  It’s arguably the case that one man, Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by a biography of Alexander Hamilton, created a sensation that may have altered that path.

As a final aside, I think this speaks to a basic fact of life, that pursuing your dreams can lead to unexpected and seemingly impossible outcomes.  I encourage every student here at SPS and throughout CUNY to keep their head down and pursue whatever area fulfills them and makes their lives happy and enriched.  You’ll never know where that path will take you, but it will invariably lead you to success.  It might even get you to the White House.

Michael is currently pursuing his Bachelors of Science in Information Systems and plans on pursuing a Master Degree in Data Analytics from CUNY SPS after graduation. He’s worked in the Internet Marketing sector for nearly 7 years and specialize in Search Engine Optimization. 

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.