A Philadelphia theater company, Lantern Theatre in Center City, will give all of its actors and crew a fifty percent pay increase for the next four years. The raise is a call to action for the city’s art community.
The Lantern Theatre is a small but well-established company in Center City, employing about 60 people during a season of five productions. Last fiscal year the company, for the first time, brought in over $1 million in earned and donated revenue.
It is an Equity house, paying union actors a lower-tiered scale – typically about $400 per week for the run of a production. It also uses non-union actors and crew. Through a dedicated fundraising campaign of about $90K a year for four years, both union and non-union staff will be getting the raise. The Wyncote Foundation has seeded the campaign with a $200K donation.
“We’re going to try to pay what we think is fair, rather than what we can bargain for in the marketplace,” said Lantern artistic director McMahon. “I don’t see anyone else doing this, but I do believe other companies want to do something like this. I hope we can help give everybody who is trying to raise money for artists the ammunition they need to make the case that this is a worthwhile thing for people to spend their money on.”
McMahon said the 50% number is somewhat arbitrary, but he wanted it to be significant. A 10% raise, for example, would amount to a well-intentioned drop in the bucket to the individual artist.
To fund the raise through his production budget, McMahon said he would have to increase that budget by 25%, which by his accounting is impossible. That is why he launched the dedicated campaign.
McMahon said the arts, generally, have contributed significantly to the economic growth and quality of life in Philadelphia, and the city owes artists a living.
“We shouldn’t neglect the fact that artists themselves provide an extraordinarily large subsidy to the city through low-cost, and sometimes free donations of work,” said McMahon. “If we want to keep this engine going in the right direction we have to start paying artists better.”
The Lantern’s 2015-1016 season has already begun, with cast and crew having been contracted months ago for the first production. McMahon says the raise will be retroactive; actors and crew will be given the pay increase for time already spent on pre-production and rehearsals.
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