As an actor, I wonder why I’m always worried about money.

All of my actor friends have multiple day jobs. They barely scrape by. Many are on unemployment and struggle to pay rent every month. This problem is deeper than just the fact that rent in Los Angeles is unaffordable (which it is – I mean $1400 for a studio apartment without even a kitchen?) But with culture so deeply rooted in the arts, I wonder why artists of all kinds are scoffed at and dismissed instead of respected and supported.

The solution to this was to build an actors union. SAG was formed first for film, then AFTRA for TV, and Actors Equity for theatre. SAG and AFTRA merged to become one, and Equity is still available for stage actors. For a while, union actors were paid fairly. Just like every other professional in every other field, actors were able to pursue their career paths full-time. They could actually make a living at it. But, recently, as you probably know, SAG-AFTRA rates have fallen dramatically. Actors are no longer paid a living wage, making it difficult to afford basic necessities such as food and rent. Further, it makes it even more difficult to qualify for basic healthcare, and similar problems are happening in the theatre community as well.

So, why is it so difficult for actors to earn a living wage?

Let me pose a little theory.

Imagine for a moment that a man with no political experience and lots of opinions is placed in a position to run an entire country. This is a man who touts capitalism and aims to disband unions. He disenfranchises actors and artists and cuts funding for the arts.

He is a man who does not understand the complete and utter irony of his actions.

Let me give you some examples.

His Aim

This man says that capitalism is king, and then he aims to go and disband unions.

The Irony

SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity represent capitalism, as they are both competition-based unions.

His Aim

Cut federal funding for the arts, public TV and libraries.

The Irony

He rose to fame through public TV while he was on The Apprentice on NBC.

His Aim

To shut down unions.

The Irony 

He is a member of SAG-AFTRA, where he receives a sizable pension and used to utilize the union’s top-notch healthcare until he became president (you know, the kind of healthcare that he wants to take away from the rest of us.)

All of these factors added up brings together an important question to my mind: does he even pay his SAG-AFTRA dues? I mean, it’s public knowledge that he has managed to evade paying taxes…. Just food for thought.

If he does pay them, it makes him a hypocrite. If he doesn’t pay them, it makes him immoral for taking advantage of the institutions the union offers, such as his healthcare, pension and whopping residuals checks.

Unfortunately, this is very typical with most politicians.

Most of our country’s politicians are middle-aged or older white, male “traditionalists” who refuse change. They want to keep our country stagnant. For instance, our president has proposed to slash the funding for both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities to a quarter of their current budgets. Why is it always that the arts are the first to go?

Also, why is it that we are one of the only major countries in the world without a nationally funded theatre?

The U.K., France, Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, India all have one. Well, we did have one at one point. It was part of the New Deal directly after the Great Depression, but it was shut down during the McCarthy witch hunts. Therefore, we, the supposedly most evolved country in the world, does not have something as culturally basic as a national theatre because these “traditionalists” in the top seats want to stagnate our country so that they can retain control. 

However, since the arts are the most effective vehicle for change within society, it’s no wonder that they do all they can to shut us down.

We, the actors, artists, singers, musicians, chefs, dancers, are leaders in our country’s evolution; we’re the ones who most effectively push our country forward. For instance, the well known social commentator Will Rogers; he received prestigious invitations from the highest classes of society all over the world to share his philosophies as a humanist and humorist. In addition to artistic contributions, artists are also the ones known for giving back. Hollywood has some of the world’s most generous philanthropists and good deed-doers; Steve Buscemi, Gary Sinise, and Robin Williams, just to name a few. These celebrities also have some of the biggest influence on voters, another thing that pushes our country forward. 

Yet, actors are asked to accept paychecks that don’t even pay a living wage.

The basic, blue-collar working actor is expected to be mollified by a $200 stipend for two months working on a play. We are expected to accept a role in a feature film that pays a measly $125 a day, and then they present us with our paycheck as if they’re doing us a favor. As if it’s a privilege to be paid at all for doing our job. And then we have to give 10% to our agents, 30% to taxes, and deposit the wrung-dry $75 that are left directly into our rent check and drive quietly and exhaustedly from set directly to our day jobs so that we don’t end up on the street.

And then we are told, “well, this is what you want. This is the price you have to pay to be happy and do something that you love,” as if happiness is a luxury. As if we are all supposed to have jobs that we hate so that we can just survive. Why do we just have to survive instead of thrive? Is that really the American dream?

This is why we fight so hard for our union.

We all want to be able to live off of our earnings in our professional field, to be treated well in our workplace, and to be allowed to plan for our futures. There are people trying to take away from us the very things from which they benefit. Actors deserve to earn at least a living wage, just like everybody else. Solidarity, staying one in our union, will get us back what is rightfully ours.

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