Study Credits ‘Hamilton’ For Boosting Cast Diversity But Says Gains Insufficient For Industry Hiring Problems

'Hamilton' Joan Marcus

The first Actors’ Equity diversity and inclusion report since 2017 finds “modest improvement” in the hiring of actors and stage managers of color in the last three years, but describes the slight shift as “extremely gradual, inconsistent and not enough to change longtime problems in the industry.”

In fact, the increased representation of people of color in the nation’s theater industry can be attributed solely to multiple productions of Hamilton, the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical that casts non-white actors as the nation’s Founding Fathers.

In addition, women, the report found, continue to suffer from a gender wage gap, and trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming Equity members usually earn less than cisgender members.

The new report says the theater industry’s hiring bias is not merely a problem of “who gets a contract, but how much they are paid.” The study tracks the demographics of how Equity members are hired for acting and stage management work, and how much they were paid from the years 2016-2019.

“As in the previous study,” Equity reports, “when workers from marginalized groups actually do earn a contract, they are often paid less than their white male counterparts because white men more frequently are able to receive additional overscale pay beyond the contractual minimum salary.”

The union, which represents 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, said, “In short, there has been modest improvement since the 2017 study — meaning that there has been more equitable distribution of contracts and earnings — but most improvements have been extremely gradual, inconsistent and not enough to change longtime problems in the industry.”

Equity says the new report structure is more expansive and inclusive than the previous 2017 version, which was based on contractual data from the 2013 to 2015 theatrical seasons. The new study added data about sexual orientation and gender identity, and more data about the hiring of disabled members and information on veteran status and age.

A supplemental report will be released later this year breaking down the data by major theatrical markets.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Contracts going to people of color increased from 15.3% in the previous study to 23.3% in the current study. Contracts to Black members represent 45.7% of that increase. That change however, does not necessarily reflect improvement across the industry. For example, among Production Contracts used on Broadway and some tours, much of the increased representation of people of color can be attributed to multiple productions of Hamilton alone. “Importantly, what little change has occurred since 2015 still falls short of reflecting our nation. The 2010 census reported 39.6% of Americans identified as people of color, for example.”
  • Contracts going to women increased from 43.5% of all contracts to 44.9% in the current study. A pay gap remains between genders because men are able to receive more overscale (payments above minimum requirements). Not only do women earn less than men, but trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming members usually earn less than their cisgender peers in the same job categories on any given contract type;
  • Barely 1% of contracts issued from 2016-2019 were to members who report living with a disability. “This number is surely higher in reality. Nationally, roughly one in four Americans are living with a disability. Furthermore, people with disabilities tend to earn less than their non-disabled counterparts”;
  • There has been a decrease in the percentage of contracts going to members over 65 years of age since 2013-2015. In addition, contracts issued to members of color skewed younger compared to white members, who were most likely to be issued contracts beyond age 65. Nationally, 73.8% of all contracts for members 65 years old and older went to white members.

“Moving forward, Equity intends to publish a diversity report on an annual basis to hold ourselves and the entire industry accountable,” said Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association. “It is our duty to be part of the solution, to work to tear down barriers and rebuild a structure that is truly inclusive.”

Read the full report here.

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