In theaters across the nation, stages are barren and the lights have gone dark for more than six months now. Coronavirus has all theater-lovers yearning for a time when the lights will shine again, the curtains will go up, and the theaters will come back to life.
It will happen.
But when it does happen, many theater insiders are wondering if it will be a more equitable theater industry and one that is fair to all levels of the production experience regardless of race, gender, or position.
For decades, theaters have faced inequality in regards to race, gender, and even a livable wage for some of the non-performing members of the community. According to Backstage online, “extended pause in the theater industry thanks to COVID-19 has made space for overdue conversations and examinations of the financial, racial, and production systems that have long fueled Broadway. New York City’s once-thriving theater business hopes to reopen with a renewed focus on equity.”
Issues of Race
Like many industries during this coronavirus crisis, questions have come to the forefront of our minds about the racial inequalities that exist in our country. In recent months, existing groups like the Broadway Advocacy Coalition have set forth new initiatives focused on dismantling racism (and, specifically, anti-Blackness) in theater.
Many theater members are encouraging further study of the scope and pervasiveness of anti-Blackness and racism in the American theater. BIPOC, which stands for blacks, Indigenous and people of color, are asking for ongoing anti-racism training, union production teams made up of at least 50% BIPOC individuals, and a publicly available study examining pay disparity between BIPOC and white union members.
Not only do people of color have fewer opportunities in the theater industry but, so too do women. Often when they do get hired, they often are hired on lower-paying contracts. According to the Actors’ Equity Association’s first-ever diversity study, made public in 2017, men out-earn women on Broadway, and the majority of them are white.
Pay Scale Inequities
The closing of Broadway and theaters across the globe will inevitably bring a need for pay cuts and tightening the proverbial financial belt. Sadly, the reductions will not be equal. Here is a simplistic example of how pay cuts across the board would be very unbalanced. For example, let’s say someone is making $10,000 a week and someone is making $400 a week, taking 50% of both of their salaries is not a viable and equitable economic solution. In New York City, $5,000 a week is still more than livable in a way that $200 a week is not.
“Wages should be cut in an equitable way—people who make more money can live their lives with a higher percentage of that money taken away,” he says. “The way we talk about cutting wages across the board invariably will be used to justify not giving certain workers a livable wage.” (Source: Backstage)
It is important that we take this pause in theater to closely examine these issues and make adjustments that are meaningful and achievable.