The Playgoer: Just HOW Big a Loss is "Law & Order" to NY Actors ?

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Just HOW Big a Loss is "Law & Order" to NY Actors ?

This big:

Some actors who worked chiefly in New York theater, drawing weekly salaries of $500 to $1,500 for their stage roles [um, more like $250-$500--ed.], supplemented those paychecks by playing judges, jurors and police officers on “Law & Order.” Pay for those jobs ranged from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or so a week for only a few moments of screen time.

Douglas Aibel, the artistic director of the Vineyard Theater, an Off Broadway theater, who is also a casting director for feature films, said the premiere of “Law & Order” in 1990 was a watershed for actors based on the East Coast. “Many actors used to have to choose between pursuing a theatrical life in New York or going to L.A. to earn a living,” Mr. Aibel said, “but one of the lovely things about the ‘Law & Order’ franchise is that it provided actors an opportunity to do both."

Jan Maxwell, a longtime New York theater actress who has been nominated for two Tony Awards this season, recalled fondly that she played murderers in her three appearances on “Law & Order” during the 1990s [...] “The writing was decent enough so you didn’t feel like shoving a knife into your head when you got home,” Ms. Maxwell said. “And the money was helpful to have in between theater jobs. A lot of us counted on ‘Law & Order’: It was built on the back of theater actors in New York."

For lesser-known actors, the prestige of a “Law & Order” credit outweighed the earnings. Frank Senger, who lives in Astoria, has played small roles (a biker, a strip-club bouncer) in two episodes of the original show, which is known in the trade as “the mother ship,” as well as in two episodes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and one of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” He said he was paid union scale of about $500 or $600 for his work but had continued receiving royalty checks in dwindling amounts, some for as little as 33 cents.  All told, his earnings from those five appearances may have totaled $20,000 or so, over 15 years, he said. “I know that doesn’t seem like that much,” he said. But he added, “You’re taken as a serious working actor in New York if you’ve done ‘Law & Order.’ ”
Well at least there's still SVU and CI, right?  Right???

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