Though the acting profession may be creatively rich, its professionals may be less financially blessed. As of May 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that employment for actors is so irregular that the agency could only calculate hourly rates for the profession and not the customary annual income.
Actors averaged a mean $33.82 per hour in 2011, according to the BLS. The lowest-paid 10 percent made $8.79 hourly, and the highest-paid 10 percent earned over $90 hourly. Most worked in the motion picture and video industries to make a mean hourly $43.33. However, independent actors made the highest average pay at $45.39 per hour. Other typical employers and average salaries were performing arts companies, which offered $21.15 per hour, television broadcasting with $24.84 hourly and radio broadcasting with $24.83 per hour.
Starting wages for movie actors are defined by the combined labor union of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Artists and production companies are free to settle on compensation that is higher than these minimums. Performers hired for the day earned $842 for that period as of July 2012. Singing on and off camera in solos and duos changed daily minimums to $911, but in groups of three to eight, pay dropped to $799. Actors who were hired for the week earned $2,921 for the week. Singing in solos or duos also paid the same weekly amounts as nonsinging actors.
Television performers received the same amount as movie actors except when given a “major role.” This is defined as someone who was granted a credit at the front of the show with the forms “Guest Star,” “Special Guest Star,” “Starring” or “Special Appearance By." They received $4,631 per week in half-hour shows, and $7,410 per week for one-hour shows. Those hired for 10 to 19 weeks made $2,506 per week, while those who worked for 20 or more weeks made $2,087 per week. Television also had rates for actors hired to work for three days. Whether they sang or not on half-hour or full-hour shows, they received $2,130 for the period.
The Actors Equity Association was the labor union responsible for defining minimum wages for stage actors, and negotiated contracts based on location and type of performance. On Broadway, for example, where stages represent the pinnacle of the theater actor’s profession, weekly pay as of 2012 was $1,754. On the opposite coast, the Hollywood area theater contract defined pay based on box office weekly gross and theater size. For example, actors in theaters with up to 199 seats whose productions earned $25,000 or less per week earned a minimum $343 per week. Those in theaters with 400 to 499 seats whose productions earned $70,001 per week were paid $666 per week.