Thoughts on Theatre: What do actors make?

In 20+ years of teaching “Intro to Theatre”-type classes, this might be the single most common question asked. It’s a fair question. Most people see actors as celebrities, and actor salaries are interesting — both economically speaking as well as a form of gossip. Also, it is probably a reasonable question for someone considering a career as an actor.

There are different ways to answer this. First the high end. Yes, actors can make A LOT of money. The six friends on Friends each made 1 million dollars per episode in their final season, for 22 episodes! If you want to, you can look up any famous actor on Forbes.com where they list the value of celebrities. As of this writing (16 August 2016), the most valuable actor on that list is: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who earned over 60 million dollars in 2015.

On the other hand, there are many people who either pursue acting as a hobby or who are struggling as the stereotypical out-of-work actor. They act out of love and passion. There is a common saying in any field that you have do “it” because you love it until someone pays you to do “it.” So yes, many actors do “it” because of their love of acting.

In between these two extremes, you can find many working artists who cobble together a sort of portfolio. One good example is a woman I know who, a) acted; b) ran a local talent agency; c) ran a youth acting school; and d) ran a program for a local medical school providing trained actors to be pretend patients for student doctors to practice diagnosing. And, through all of these activities, she had a very solid and reasonable, if at times stressful, career!

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