The Cast of Hamilton gets a few more Hamiltons.

I guess it pays to be in the room where it happens.

Late last week, it was announced that the duel between a group of the original Actors in Hamilton who helped develop it in early readings, workshops, labs, etc. and the Producers of the mega hit who are said to be earning $500k a week had resulted in a settlement, giving those Actors a portion of future profits.

At the center of this debate is the contracts that Actors work under in the “R&D” phase of a musical, usually either the lesser used workshop contract (the legacy of Michael Bennett) which pays Actors a smaller weekly but they share in 1% of the profits, or the “lab” contract, which pays the Actor a much higher weekly but with no piece of profits, and no first right of refusal if the project moves forward.

As I wrote about here, while it may be easy to think that the 1% is the reason Producers don’t opt for the workshop contract more often, I’m a believer that it’s the first right of refusal that’s the issue.  I’d expect that both contracts are going to get a big comb through due to the Hamilton brouhaha, so maybe that’ll get addressed in the process (and I’m still proposing that giving Actors a choice in the matter could help prevent future Hamiltonian-like issues).

I had a feeling this discussion would be settled, but what isn’t settled now is how this will affect the industry in the future.

You see, I expect that there will be new future development agreements that give the Actors who help shape shows a piece of profits, which will probably be less than 1% and should also only kick in after recoupment (the Hamilton issues came about when it was a sure thing that the show would be well into the black).  And as a Producer, I will go on the record to say I’m in favor of it.  Just like Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line birthed the workshop contract, so will Hamilton birth something similar.

But there could be a backlash.

If the Actors can organize and successfully negotiate an agreement to get something more well after the ink has dried, will we see Producers say, “Hey, quid pro quo . . . in bad times, I want to be able to come back to you all and get a reduction?”

Or will there be a push back to minimums?  In the corporate world, stock options, or a piece of the company are common for higher level employees . . . but they often come with a lower annual salary, since you have bigger potential for upside.

Or will Producers say, “Hey, why are the Investors paying for this . . . if the Actors are helping shape the script, shouldn’t the Authors be the ones cutting the Actors in?”  (And when it is reported that big hits like Matilda only generate 5% profits to their Investors, despite paying lots of royalties?  Not to mention Actors’ salaries, etc.  You can understand why the Investors might be bugged.)

Will other unions want more of a cut of potential profit . . . or what one Producer I know calls, “Bonanza Insurance?”

We’re going to see a lot of debate about the distribution of profits of the mega hit, especially as we continue to play in the land of the $2mm and $3mm weekly grosses.

And again, I’m all for it.  I love everyone getting a piece of the pie . . . when that pie is the size of Texas.

As long as it doesn’t reduce the Investors’ share overall.  See, Investors in the theater don’t do one show. It’s easy to think, “Oh, they are making so much money on INSERT NAME OF MEGA HIT HERE.”  But odds are that’s after those same Investors have funded many a flop.

We should make agreements that allow for the spreading of the wealth, so long as the people that make it possible for all of us to do what we do are thought of as well.

 

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Comments
  • This is a very complex issue and I have experienced unfair labor practice first hand when my first show HAPPY END moved from BAM to the Martin Beck Theatre w/Meryl Streep, Bob Gunton for a run of a few months at the M.Beck Theatre. I spent months working on it as a unpaid Prod.Assistant. Later another show I shall not name moved from Of-Off Broadway to Off-Broadway but I was not included, as associate producer. There are many loose ends in the Theatre and I have been unable to tie my shoe(w)s when needed.

  • Robert says:

    It seems unAmerican to expect profit sharing (unless it’s in the world of banking!) but then the world of theatre has always been more left leaning than right.

    Hamilton looks like it will now have an impact way beyond the artistic one it has already achieved.

  • Tarana Peaches says:

    If Hamilton had taken an “L” would the actors have shared in that too? Or just the producers/investors? (rhetorical)

  • Frank says:

    You’ll be hard pressed to prove to what degree you “helped build” a project after you’ve been away from it for months/years. I’m all for everyone getting their share, but if you were paid properly for your services and then had zero involvement afterwards… you deserve nothing. You assumed no risk, and should not reap the reward for others work.

  • Janet Gramza says:

    The members of USITT would like to see the designers & technicians who create the look of the show included in these decisions to share the wealth! It’s only fair.

  • CQG says:

    That the mega-fortunes from the few mega-hits accrue to so few, and those few started with relatively deep pockets, feels at least ungenerous, if not actually unfair. The notion of “bonanza insurance” for these lightning strikes appeals, particularly if balanced by a traditional contract with higher minimums but no first refusal right or royalty before recoupment. But what happens if the show changes considerably between its original regional incarnation and its Broadway version? Determining “fair” credit for its success could be very difficult. Is the goal to make it possible for some lucky actors/designers/etc to get a bonus when lightning strikes, or to expand the employment possibilities and the art form/industry overall? It might make more sense for the contracts to provide, in case of returns in excess of some threshhold, for a contribution to fund new play development at the originating organization or through some national fund to which any non-profit can apply. In this way, the upside potential to investors keeps their needed funds in the game, but the “bonanzas” can build the whole field.

  • Kiri-Lyn Muir says:

    Although I am an artist, I am not sure that I am in favour of the artists receiving a share of the profits. Why? Because the artists are not really the risk takers. The producers and the investors are. Artists are guaranteed a salary, no matter how badly the show may sell. Producers and investors are not guaranteed a salary, and, as you point out, experience more failure than success in this regard.
    While the A Chorus Line actors SHOULD have received royalties – (it was their life stories through interviews that were lifted for the script), I doubt that original workshop Hamilton actors had as much input into the process.
    We also have to remember that Hamilton is a very rare exception. It is a massive hit. This is not a given on Broadway. Perhaps going forward, Actors Equity could negotiate a piece of the profits for their members IF the show they are involved with reaches a profit threshold. (clearly stated in % or $ amounts). That way, EVERYONE’s definition of a massive hit would be quantifiable, and the reasons for any potential profit sharing would be well defined

  • Rick says:

    To Comment or not to comment…That is the question…Whether tis…Oh! Stop!???

    Yes, one of my “favs” Ken….After reading the NYTimes article and your comments Ken…I believe, myself, personally, I will let it take it’s course and continue to “Perform Admirably” in all that I do to further the Performing Arts! ….As for profit sharing yes…and the % to be fair in the efforts who contribute the blood, sweat,…etc…As I tell my students…”Pay it Forward”…Breathe, Relax, and Refocus.
    ….Use your talents and skills to make this world a better place…Rodney Kings quote…”Why can’t we all just get along” May 1992″

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