"I receive a very handsome salary and worked 35 years to get it,'' said [Andre] Bishop of Lincoln Center Theater, who drew no salary when he began working at tiny nonprofits in the 1970s. "The idea that because we're nonprofit we shouldn't earn a decent living is ludicrous. We're the CEOs of a company with a budget of about $35 million."Isaac thankfully points us to an detailed survey by Bloomberg's Philip Boroff of Artistic Director salaries. While Isaac's right that he and I and others in our beloved "theatresphere" were on this story months ago, it's still nice to see someone throwing their full journalistic resources at it.
I certainly don't begrudge Mr. Bishop his expectation to be compensated on a par with the CEO of any other huge nonprofit--like a museum or symphony orchestra. (And obviously no mere theatre AD will ever approach something like the Metropolitan Museum's Philipe De Montebello, for instance.) One could even argue that monetary respect for the theatre's institutional leaders translates into respect for the field as a whole.
One could argue that. But I still don't see that happening.
Still, the mere use of the term "CEO" does put the job in a new context, doesn't it. At least, those positions at the head of such huge theatres in this town as Lincoln Center, the Public, the Roundabout, and Manhattan Theatre Club--all of whose AD's, Boroff reports, make well into the 6 figures. In fact, poor Eustis is the only one of that club not making a half-mil! And, forget New York: Joe Dowling at the Guthrie is pulling in close to 700 G's.
Isaac, though, shifts the focus to the p.o.v. of the plebes working in the trenches of these institutions.
I have a friend who works for a theater.[...] He had to fight for a standard of living wage increase last year because the theater has run deficits for years. Okay, understandable, we have hard times, you care about your company, you make sacrifices. But... and I'm sure you've already guessed what the kicker is here... they're building a multimillion dollar new space. Even though they're arguing they can't afford to pay their staff a decent wage. And it's not like they're saying "hey, included in this capital campaign is a wage increase for you guys, so just hold on, its coming". They're saying "we can't give you this because times are tight".The "theatre failed america reference" indeed refers to Mike Daisey's polemic against--among other things--the increased overvaluing of real estate over people, of management over artists.
This is yet another way that theater has become america. We expect those at the bottom to take huge sacrifices and remain in it for "the love of what you do" or because "it's a good cause" while people at the top make significantly more money. And in theater, that significantly more still pales in comparison to what they'd make managing companies of the same size outside of the art form.
This built-in expectation that the grunts will continue to watch the income gap between staffer and leadership grow is crucial to our problems. Because it's true--Andre Bishop, Todd Haimes, many of these folks did indeed work for nothing while they grew their original companies. And they do deserve some comfort, some security, and, sure, some "reward," after all that.
But the feeling many get from that generation so often now is: "Hey, I dealt with it back then. So can you." Not in a mean way. But actually as if it's "character building," and all that. Or it's just the sorry reality, and always will be, given how much our culture shits on the theatre.
Keep in mind, when this generation of producers started out in the 60s and 70s, one could still rent an apartment in NYC--even Manhattan--for $200 a month. Or less. When the subway was a quarter. And even Broadway tickets were on average were under $40.
How anyone breaks into the theatre in this town today on a $10,000-$20,000 a year stipend and survives for more than a few years--absent a trust fund--is a miracle.
So all I'll say is: if our theaters really want there be a future generation of artistic directors, producers, dramaturgs they better invest in them.