Do Community Theater Actors Get Paid?

Community theater actors are some of the hardest working thespians around. They work hard but do they get paid?

Traditionally, actors who perform in community theaters are not compensated monetarily. However, these stage performers receive benefits in the form of experience and personal fulfillment.

The term “community theater” is a broad concept that has different meanings for different people.  The traditional concept of community theater conjures an image of a group of volunteers who put on a show at a local theatre for the sheer joy of performing and entertaining. 

However, there are also theater companies and regional theatres that are local but don’t necessarily fall within that traditional concept of community theater. 

Often times actors in these companies and working through regional theatres are paid professional actors with an accompanying cast of volunteers (called Pro-Am theaters). So, there are some opportunities for local stage actors to profit from their work.

9 Benefits of Acting In Community Theater Plays

We know that performing in community theater clearly won’t make you rich.  So what are the benefits of being a part of these productions?  Why do people do this for little or no money?

  1. You will develop public speaking skills.  By performing in front of an audience, you become more confident and poised for speaking to an audience.
  2. You learn to work with a team of people.  Participating in a collaborative effort, working toward a common goal, is a great way to improve your teamwork skills.
  3. You are able to give back to your community.  Community theater is often the only time many people will be able to see a stage play in person.  Acting in one of these productions gives you a chance to be a part of that experience.
  4.  You gain experience as an actor.  If you aspire to go further in an acting career, performing in community theater can help you hone your craft.
  5.  You will meet new people and make new friends.  Joining the cast of a community play will give you the opportunity to meet like-minded creatives.
  6. You get to do what you love.  Actors are passionate about acting whether they are getting paid or not.  Performing in community theater gives you a chance to be on a stage doing “your thing”.
  7. You learn to deal with rejection.  Auditions won’t always turn out in your favor; but with community theater, even if you don’t get the lead you’ll probably still get a part.
  8. You learn from other actors. Being in community productions gives you the opportunity to observe other actors and learn from them. You can learn different ways to deliver lines, how to interact with directors and stage managers, and different processes for getting into character or learning lines.
  9. You learn how to develop a character. In community theater you may have more of an opportunity to get a speaking role than in bigger theaters. These small opportunities are ideal for preparing for bigger ones.

Do Any Community Theater Participants Get Paid?

It takes a lot of people to pull a playoff. So there is a wide variety of positions in the theater. Community theaters are fortunate to have people who are willing to volunteer their time, talent, and services.

Even still, it is not unusual for directors, musical directors, stage managers, choreographers, and musicians to be paid in community theater productions.  These individuals can be paid a set amount per production or a percentage of the income generated through ticket sales.

Less often, the set designers, light and sound techs, and costume designers are paid a relatively small amount of money for each production they work on.

Tips For Moving From Community Theaters To Professional Theaters

At some point in your acting journey, you might decide that you love it enough to want to do it full-time. If that happens you’ll need to know how to move from community theater work to professional theater jobs. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Prepare excellent materials for your auditions. Depending on whether you’re planning on doing musicals or straight plays you’ll need to prepare monologues or songs. If you plan to do both types of work, prepare both types of materials.
  • Audition a lot. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to audition. Even if you don’t get the role, you get practice auditioning and you get to be seen by different casting directors.
  • If a theater in your area offers audition workshops, sign up for the workshops and attend. Be fully engaged and meet as many people as you can. These are the perfect places to network.
  • Be willing to accept small parts, especially in the beginning.
  • If you get feedback while auditioning, take the note and work on the issue that was presented to you.

How Resident Companies Work

A resident company is a group of core actors who perform the majority of the theater’s plays.  These companies do not tour and primarily perform at the same theater location. 

Resident companies produce multiple plays but using the same group of actors to play the leads.  Resident actors can really stretch their acting chops, being able to consistently take on different roles with the same group of actors who they have a good rapport with.  

Resident companies have the advantages of reducing the need for auditions, having a group of actors who they know are dependable, having actors who are familiar with the audience of the locality and know what they like and expect, and having actors who have a fan base.

The main disadvantage of resident companies is the potential for lack of diversity, which will limit the types of plays they can produce. 

How Regional Theaters Work

Regional theatres, also known as resident theatres, are theaters outside of New York that produce their own seasons with a cast of professional actors.

If the theater operates under an Equity contract and its rules, the actors there are professional actors who are members of the Actors Equity union.  Equity actors are paid based on a formula set by the contract they are working under.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for actors in theater companies and dinner theaters is $17.72 per hour.  The actual rate of pay will, of course, vary based on the location of the theater and the status of the actor’s union affiliation.

Related Questions

Can equity actors do community theater?

Equity actors are allowed to audition for non-equity roles; however, if they are offered a role, the theater is required to negotiate a contract with the union, Actor’s Equity.  These contracts usually take the form of a special appearance contract or a guest artist contract.

How Can You Join Actors’ Equity?

To become a member of Actors’ Equity Association, you must first enter the Equity Membership Candidate Program (EMC).  To become an EMC candidate, you have to be cast in a qualifying role at an Equity theatre that offers the Equity Membership Candidate program; complete a registration form; and pay a $200 registration fee. 

Once a candidate in the program, you are required to complete at least 25 weeks of work (credits) at a participating theater; after which they can join Equity or work through Phase II for a total of 50 hours as a candidate.  Actors have 5 years after the completion of the candidate program to join before their credits expire.