Why Broadway Performers Are Paid More

A recent New York Times article discussed a meeting being held to protest a “tiered wage” that averages $1,000 per week for performers in touring productions of Broadway musicals -- compared to a “full wage” of $1,800 for the Broadway productions of the same show.  

Why shouldn’t the pay be the same for the same effort?  The article gets the answer correct: the pay must equal the marginal revenue product for the production to be profitable; and even compared to performances in cultural capitals like Austin, Tex., the revenue-per-seat-filled on Broadway is much higher. A touring company just cannot, as the article notes, make a profit or perhaps not break even paying the same wages as on Broadway.  Perhaps not fair to the performers, but this is good economics.  With this difference in pay, however, the quality of the touring companies is unlikely to be as good as the Broadway company.

FREAK-est Links

1. In Nashville, Tenn., homicide is at a historic low. (HT: Wesley Hartline)

2. We investigated suicide in our podcast "The Suicide Paradox"; The New York Times profiles  Matthew K. Nock, Harvard's "suicide detective."

3. Does price affect adoption? NPR reports that black babies are cheaper to adopt. (HT: Eric Samuelson)

4. Why do theater tickets cost so much? A comparison of "Death of a Salesman" ticket prices in 1949 and 2012.

5. In India, proof of toilet is necessary for a marriage license. (HT: Tony Pappas)

Marginal Cost of the 26th Naked Actor

An English newspaper reports that an opera producer has had to cut back the number of naked male actors from 88 to 25 for fear that, given the size of the stage, some of the naked actors would fall into the orchestra pit.  The stage is fixed capital; the marginal product of the 26th naked actor is negative — the production would be severely disrupted if an actor fell off the stage.  Since the opera is about the “sex-crazed Duchess of Argyll,” presumably the marginal product of the first actor is positive — given the Duchess’s proclivities, having zero naked actors would make no sense; marginal products decrease but are still positive up through 25, then become negative thereafter. This is, of course, in the short run; perhaps if there were more time to produce the play, the capital stock could be increased — a larger stage could be built — and the marginal product of the 26th actor would be positive. (HT: CB)

Sleep No More: Theater as Social Experiment?

Have any of you seen Sleep No More? And if so, did your experience as an audience member make you think (as it did me) of the social experiments of Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo (though without the sadism)? And -- bonus question -- is anyone actually working on a social-science research project involving Sleep No More?

Wanna Buy a Tony Award?

People give to charities for all kinds of reasons – some more noble than others. But one important motivation is recognition. If Yale mandated that it would only accept anonymous donations, its fundraising would be decimated.

There are a lot of different ways to garner public recognition. If I had 3 million bucks to throw around, I’d think long and hard about trying instead to buy myself a Tony Award. For as little as $200,000, you might be able to purchase an 8% chance at winning a Tony.

Let me emphasize that this is at best a crude ballpark estimate. Over the last 5 years, 12.2 new plays have been produced on Broadway each year. For a play, which generally runs about $2.5-3 million these days, my friend Jack Thomas at Bulldog Theatrical tells me you can usually find yourself among those listed above the title for about $200,000. Some investors split this minimum ante and put up or raise just $100,000 each and get listed as Bulldog Theatrical / Cantab Theatrical.