The Mythical Fairytale Land of 6.5%

Did you know that for this year there were only 340 onstage performance jobs for Professional Musical Theatre in Australia?

Photo by Joe Penniston

Did you know also that in 2014, Actor’s Equity reported a membership of 5179? This number referring to the fee-paying, card-carrying demographic of Stage Performers, Stunt Workers and Circus Performers across Australia.

If in fact you take these two numbers together, you come to the ballpark figure of 6.5% of the industry being employed in Professional Musical Theatre for this year.

So if you are the 93.5% of Musical Theatre Performers who have gained considerable qualification in the field and you don’t have a job performing. Don’t worry – you are doing par for the course. As ridiculous as that sounds.

Let me take a moment to say that the numbers I have given above are not 100% accurate, but that they are useful in providing us a SNAPSHOT of the industry. Let’s take a moment to look at how I came by them.

The Numbers

Some of you would have read this post summarizing the 2015 year of Musical Theater.

Under the heading “Commercial Musical Theatre” are 11 productions which offer their performers payment that meets or exceeds the Equity Minimum Performance Wage. All of these productions have publicly available cast lists, and so I went and counted them. 340 was my hand-counted and probably wildly inaccurate result.

You’ll notice that just underneath that is a category of “Independent Musical Theatre”, and here is where all attempts at accuracy fall out the window (and which also conveniently serves as my justification for lackadaisical counting).

Independent Productions, by necessity, have wildly varying payment models for involvement, ranging from Voluntary, to Co-Operative models (where performers are paid a split of whatever profits are generated), to meeting or exceeding Equity Minimums, to anywhere in between. Very rarely if ever, are the financials fully divulged and it is common for variance even within a cast – where one performer is paid at or exceeding Equity Minimums and another is paid next to nothing.

So, there were only 340 jobs huh?

Photo by leg0fenris
Image by leg0fenris

Well not entirely. That number takes no account of related entertainment industries which have commonly enfolded the Musical Theatre community. Industries like Children’s Touring Theatre Troupes (try saying that quickly 5 times), Television, Film or the Straight Stage, Birthday Party Companies, Voice Over Work, Theme Park Entertainers or Cruise Ship Performers.

Having said that, the 340 does include a large swathe of Performers who are Children, who because of Equity restrictions on the hours that they can legally work, commonly need to be double, triple and sometimes quadruple cast (as in the case of Matilda, The King and I, The Lion King and soon The Sound of Music).

The number is also inflated by that offensively good looking subset of performer who through hard work, manage to book shows back to back, for example Daniel Assetta who was a male swing in Wicked, and is now cast as Rum Tum Tugger in Cats.

Two final inaccuracies I should point out:

The membership of Actor’s Equity is statistically not relevant (but is a great basis for guesstimation), since there is no guarantee that any number of Musical Theatre Performers who get or do not get jobs, are also members of the union. Another way of calculating the pool of all performers would be to collate the numbers of all graduates from all performing arts related institutions over an arbitrary period (say 10 years), and call this our industry pool, that number has every possibility of dwarfing the 5179 of Actor’s Equity, but hey we are after a ballpark, not an exact figure.

And finally professional Musical Theatre contracts, last for varying amounts of time, from 1 month all the way up to 14+. So there may not be 340 jobs for the year, it may be 340 national jobs for a year and a half. It will forever be a mystery.


Relax. Breathe. Do the numbers scare you?

They shouldn’t, because chances are you knew all this while you were studying. You would have known that there is a financial cost to following this brave, spectacular path, and there are limited seats at the table.

Sometimes that bravery will take the shape of a dogged insistence not to miss a day at your retail job. Sometimes that bravery will mean putting your hand up for a casting brief that stretches your ability, or taking classes in that thing that you’re bad at.

There is no shame in deciding that poverty is not a price you would pay for Musical Theatre. But for you 93.5% who decide to struggle onwards each morning with bright eyes and a song in your heart – have faith. You are not alone.

Actor’s Equity are a union for workers in the Entertainment Industry of Australia and work tirelessly to negotiate minimum rates, and equal opportunity for the Nation’s Performing Artists.

For more information visit:

Chris Fung

Hailing from the wind-blasted steppes of Mongolia, Chris Fung is a highly accomplished mathematician, award-winning potato grower, and habitual liar. Two specialities which have lent themselves perfectly to his current career in Musical Theatre. Chris met former AussieTheatre Editor Erin James when they were both cast members of the Australian national tour of 'The King and I', wherein Chris was fortunate enough to understudy and play the title role to 25 audiences at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. 

The King that is, not Mrs. Anna. 

Chris studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (B. Musical Theatre), at Sydney University (B.A. in Performance Studies and Education) and at the School of Hard Knocks (B. ing a very bad man that nobody wanna mess with)

Chris Fung

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