Making Play Pay

Is anyone making a living at acting? Bueller?

Molly Karrasch (before she realizes all that money is phony)
Molly Karrasch (before she realizes all that money is phony) (Photo by Sandy Carson)

Our Cost of Art examination of pay for actors in Austin shows just how tough it can be just to get paid for performing, much less compensated enough to put food on the table. But that doesn't mean some actors aren't trying to carve a full-time career out of their craft.

As the feature made clear, theatre in Austin doesn't pay enough – even to members of the union, Actors Equity – for a local actor to be able to survive on stage work alone. But many are able to supplement their income with film and voiceover work, which can be much more lucrative. Kenneth Wayne Bradley and Aaron Alexander make a living by combining stage and film work.

“The biggest challenge is scheduling,” Alexander says. “Stage is very time-consuming. Not saying that film isn’t, but in the end a film can be shot over a weekend, where a stage production takes months, including rehearsals.” He always factors in pay when considering whether he can do a play, working for no pay only rarely and only for close friends or personal projects.

Molly Karrasch doesn’t make a living yet, “but that is the goal.” About 30% of her income comes from acting, mostly stage work: “A sad amount, but I definitely rely on it.” When she chooses roles, “Pay always factors in. I very recently turned down a really fantastic role because the pay wasn’t enough, and it broke my heart. I just couldn’t afford to do it. I wouldn’t say I’ve taken shows that I wasn’t excited about just because it paid well, but I’ve talked myself into getting excited because there was money involved that I needed. I do tend to gravitate toward the well-paying companies and gigs, but they are also doing good work that I’m excited about.” She doesn’t work without pay, except for readings for friends. “It’s time away from my kid and paying jobs.”

Karrasch is a bookkeeper by day, and it shows in the way she approaches her acting work: “It’s important for me as an actor to consider all the hours and expenses involved with being in a show. I make sure I include rehearsals and performances, and drive time if it’s far away. I subtract my expenses (gas, makeup, babysitters, etc.) from the fee they are paying, then divide that number by the hours I expect to spend on the project. Sometimes you might be making four bucks an hour or a lot less. I try to keep it at $10/hour to keep my self-esteem up. I would really encourage the math exercise. As soon as I paid attention, people started paying me more.”

She added, in a plaintive half-joke: “Rich people of the world and huge businesses who need tax write offs, hear our cry, endow a theatre with a bunch of money for salaries!”

It’s not a bad idea, rich people and huge businesses!

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The Cost of Art, Actors Equity Association, Kenneth Wayne Bradley, Aaron Alexander, Molly Karrasch

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