Musical Theatre is an intriguingly lucrative industry, with Broadway as a whole earning over 1.25 billion in the entire 2013-2014 season alone. The actors, dancers, and pit musicians are typically well-paid if they get gigs on Broadway, especially the professional actors who have been accepted into the “Actor’s Equity” union. Off-Broadway actors tend to make less than Broadway actors, but they can still have hugely successful careers.
Because of the wild popularity and excellent job opportunities presented to people with musical theatre training, colleges are increasingly placing resources and emphasis into high-level direction, with many graduates of the top schools getting positions in Broadway, television, and more.
Although the film and popular music industries gross more overall than musical theatre, the highest-earning entertainment project of all time, with more than $5 billion earned to its name, is actually Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera. Pretty crazy, huh?
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Most musical theatre actors are trained at a school with a heavy emphasis on “triple-threat” performance, that triple-threat being singing, dancing, and acting. Nearly every musical theatre musician receives classical voice training from the vocal teachers at their music school, although this is not the case for every institution. Having the benefit of studying at a school with dedicated voice, dedicated dance, and dedicated acting teachers is of absolutely tremendous benefit to the prospective musical theatre artist. Additionally, you must be excellent at auditioning for roles and have the stamina to perform anywhere from 6-8 shows a week.
Although professional college-level training is not required, nearly every single musical theater musician I have ever known has graduated college or spent at least a few years in college. There are many colleges that offer excellent training in musical theatre, however, three notable ones seem to consistently send actors and actresses to Broadway, and they are:
- The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- New York University Tisch School of the Arts
- Carnegie-Mellon University’s School of Drama
Getting accepted into the Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) union gives you the right to demand a certain amount of salary per week. As of 2013, according to this article, the minimum salary a Broadway actor can ask for per week is $1,754. Depending on a number of other factors, including being an understudy, being a dance captain, or if your image will be used in the company’s promotional materials, you are entitled to increments of higher weekly salary. Keep in mind that many shows won’t let you audition until you are in the AEA or in a sister organization.
Getting into the AEA requires that actors work a certain number hours of week as well as completing other requirements. Check out the actor’s equity website for more information.
If you work Off-Broadway, the minimums are typically in the $500-$700 per week.
If you are a pit musician on Broadway, you can make anywhere from $800-$1500 per week, according to the Berklee College of Music Salary Guide.
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