Actors who participated in the development of Hamilton will be compensated for their contribution under an agreement announced Friday between lead producer Jeffrey Seller and Ronald Shechtman, a prominent New York City labor lawyer. The agreement, Shechtman told Deadline, “is made compelling by setting another precedent in the evolution of actors participating in the success of a show they helped to develop at a time when revenues are so much higher than ever before.”
“It was not an adversarial process,” added Shechtman, a managing partner at Pryor Cashman LLP. “The resolution we reached came ultimately from a common ground shared by both the actors and producer Jeffrey Seller.”
Hamilton opened last summer on Broadway after a sold-out run at the Public Theater significantly underwritten by Seller and his partners. It has gone on to become the biggest hit in years, often grossing $1.7 million each week before credit card and other fixed fees at the Nederlander Organization’s Richard Rodgers Theatre. After payment of rent, royalties and other expenses, the musical is generating profit of nearly half the gross. The show already has repaid its total capitalization of $12.5 million and boasts advance ticket sales of over $60 million.
The show — with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars in the title role — is the odds-on favorite to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama on Monday and will certainly be the new musical to beat at the Tony Awards in June.
Shechtman’s reference to the agreement as part of an evolution in compensating early participants in a show is certainly apt: As long ago as the 1970s, Actors’ Equity waged war on the Dramatists Guild over payment to actors and stage managers in productions mounted under the union’s workshop code. In those days, actors got car fare if they were lucky, and the union wanted to secure right of first refusal and participation in profits when a show went on to a commercial production — money that originally would have come out of the playwrights’ future earnings on the work.
Also during that period, perhaps the most famous workshop in Broadway history — A Chorus Line, which also was developed at the Public Theater — moved to Broadway, won the Pulitzer Prize and nine Tony Awards including Best Musical and went on to become one of the most profitable shows ever. Creator and director/choreographer Michael Bennett, responding to protests from company members who originally signed away their profit-participation rights for $1 each, agreed to payments of as much as $10,000 per year to the “gypsies” in the original workshops.
Similar protests have been brewing among the Hamilton cast for months. Details of the payments have not been settled, Shechtman said. Still unclear is where the money for the payments will come from. Broadway productions have obligations to many levels of participants, from producers and investors who share in profits after expenses to the royalty pool comprising the authors, designers, musical director and other creatives involved in the show, to the theater owner. But few shows ever have as much cash to divide up as Hamilton, and it’s most likely that the new payments will come out of the producers’ share. Whether Miranda follows the late Bennett’s lead in also taking part in the distribution of money isn’t determined.
A similar arrangement has benefitted actors who participated in the workshops and pre-Broadway run of the Street’s last blockbuster, The Book of Mormon. In that case, however, the plan was worked out as part of the original agreement with the producers.