Tag Archives: budget


Handy Tips for Attending the Theater on a Budget

Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith
Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith

As anyone who goes to the theater on a regular basis knows, it is not always the cheapest pastime to have. You might want to see the latest smash hit, or maybe a fringe production that has received rave reviews. But, unless, you are rolling in money, what are the best ways to visit the theater on a budget?

In 2015, Broadway had 13.32 million* visitors to its theaters, while London’s West End saw 14.7 million† theater-goers coming through its doors. But with ticket prices continually on the increase, audience members are paying more and more. The average ticket price in the West End last year was £42.99, while the average price for a Broadway show was $103.11. However there are several ways to get to the theater regularly on the most modest of budgets and I have compiled some top tips, designed to protect your purse but continue to increase your love of theater!

Don’t Be Put Off by the Cheaper Seats

Of course the cheaper tickets offer good value and the opportunity to see a show we might not otherwise be able to afford. However, they are still expensive, and let’s face it, we’ve all experienced this–a production of Wicked in London almost ten years ago cost me a pretty big sum of money for two tickets, which allowed me to gaze at the top of tiny people’s heads for two hours. Sure, the music is amazing and the experience was brilliant, but I was frustrated by the limited view on the very back row of the Upper Circle (aka, the Balcony) in a particularly large theater.

View from an Upper Circle (aka Balcony). Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia
View from an Upper Circle (aka balcony).
Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia

However, I have since realized that, if you are savvy, the cheaper tickets can work to your advantage and here is how.

  • Check out the size of the theater:

It’s not much to do the math: the cheapest ticket in a large theater will probably result in you being sat in the gods, BUT if you consider the smaller theaters, a cheaper ticket may actually result in a good view and the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t spent the earth. Having figured this out, a birthday trip to see One Man, Two Guvnors in London’s West End two years ago resulted in brilliant front row circle seats (in a small theater) with an excellent view and over half the price of the stalls.

  • Consider what ‘restricted view’ really means

Many seats are cheaper because they are listed as restricted view. However, most of the time, this does not mean that you lose a large proportion of the view. Instead you may lose the very top of an elevated head (case in point: the floating singers in Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or lose characters behind a flat two seconds earlier than those in the stalls.

Pay What You Can

In addition to looking at the cheapest tickets available, also keep an eye out for any Pay What You Can (PWYC) schemes. Some theaters run these, normally on a matinee or Sunday, and they offer a limited number of seats for an affordable donation. However, you have to be quick, as these tickets are first come, first sold!

Check Out Local Theater Schools or Drama Schools

If you are fortunate to live near a good drama college or university with a theater course, take a look at their graduate shows. These up and coming performers produce outstanding, professional shows as the culmination of a lot of hard work and training. If they are open to the public, these shows are a great way of seeing a production of quality at a reduced price. One of the best colleges in the UK to offer public graduate shows is the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Their graduate productions of Spring Awakening (my first time seeing it) and Cabaret (definitely not my first time) were not only great shows, but also served as a reminder of what talent there is in the next generation of actors.

Discover the Festivals

Now, of course, going to a performing arts festival is not necessarily a cheap option. Some of the biggest and most well-known festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offer a wide variety of different plays, musicals, comedy etc in differing price brackets. Yes, many productions still cost a large amount but, equally, you can stumble across well-known classics performed affordably as a fringe show. However, if you choose to go to a larger festival, don’t be afraid to put in the research and go in with an open mind. For a couple of dollars, or possibly even for free, you may well discover a piece of performance that astounds the senses and makes you think differently about the theatrical experience. The Rhubarb Festival in the heart of Toronto is a perfect example of the opportunity to experience new writing that aims to explore contemporary theatrical discourse, and produce innovative and exciting pieces of work.

Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London's Theatreland. © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London’s Theatreland.
© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

If You Can, Be Flexible in Your Dates/Times

For the most part, prime seats in the stalls are going to be just as expensive on a Saturday night as on a Wednesday matinee, BUT there are potentially more opportunities to upgrade your ticket when the house is only half full. Now, this will not always happen, particularly if you’re going to a show during peak tourist season, but I have had several experiences where my back row ticket has been exchanged for a much better seat in the middle of the week. Often, if only a couple of tickets have been sold in the upper circle/circle, theaters will close this area off and upgrade you to the next level down. Several years ago, my circle ticket for Oliver! at the Theater Royal Drury Lane, London, was exchanged for a seat in the centre of the stalls, row G. Thank you very much! This also happened during Singin’ in the Rain and La Cage aux Folles, so it definitely was not a fluke, although it is by no means a fool proof method!

Although these tips cannot guarantee a cheaper ticket, every little helps in making a trip to the theater more affordable on a limited budget. Because, after all, we all need more theater in our lives!

*Broadway ticket statistics are taken from www.broadwayleague.com

†West End ticket statistics are taken from www.thestage.com

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Budget Bills

Acting by the Number$: Can Theatre Pay the Bills?

Art is awesome. I love making art. All I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories, the kind that help us examine the human experience. That’s what I believe acting to be, particularly in the theatre. A stage play is alive, happening right in front of you, existing only for a moment until another moment replaces the previous one, building to a climax. It’s a chance for us as an audience to put ourselves in another situation—it may be farcical or it may be life and death—and then ponder how we would behave. That’s what I love about theatre. Sure, you can take the same emotional journey with a film or a television show, and that art can be equally valid, but the added element of the story unfolding live in front of you, where any number of factors could influence the tale being told, I find to be irreplaceable.

Now from a working actor’s perspective, reality has to come into play. You want to do stage work, it’s your passion, but do you remember all the times someone in your past told you that “there’s no money in theatre”? I hate to break it to you, but that person was right. Yes, it is possible to earn a sizable income in theatre. It is also EXTRAORDINARILY unlikely.

Budget BillsImagine you are a chorus member in a hit show on Broadway like The Book of Mormon or Something Rotten, and you will be part of this show for a year. We can roughly estimate you will make $100,000. (Current union production contract minimum is slightly more than $1,900 per week, so let’s say you have some understudy bumps, media bonuses, perhaps hazard pay, and we’ll call it $2,000 a week for fifty weeks—we’re estimating, remember?)

Sounds like a reasonable amount of money. Who wouldn’t be happy with that salary to sing, dance, and act for a living? But hold on second…you don’t get all of that money. There’s union dues to pay, commission to your agent and/or your manager, taxes, contributions to your retirement (and I know most of you are young and don’t think about that, but believe me, PLAN NOW)—your $100,000 just became about $63,000.

Still sound like a lot? Maybe, it sounds like a lot to me. I grew up poor in the South. My very first performing job paid me more money weekly than my Mother had ever made in a week, and she worked full time for the same company for 26 years. Growing up with little (but enough I admit) colored my perception of what “a lot of money” truly is.


Back to our “net income” of $63,000. You live in the New York City area, currently the second most expensive housing market in the USA, behind only San Francisco. The average rent in Manhattan is $3,100 per month—now I know “average” is skewed by some really expensive apartments, but stay with me. It’s unlikely you live alone, that’s just too much money. Assuming you have one roommate, you spend $18,600 on rent, not including utilities. Then you spend money on things like entertainment and, you know, food. Being responsible, your grocery bill is probably around $400 per month (so $4,800 a year), and let’s estimate $2,000 for entertainment. Simple math gets us to $37,600 left over, and we haven’t covered any medical expenses, health club memberships, trips home for the holidays with your family, clothing, audition expenses, or anything else you can imagine.

In short, you can live, but that’s about it. Maybe you’ll save a little. Maybe you’ll have nice things. But odds are, that show will end, and so will your salary. One final ray of sunshine, four out of five Broadway shows fail to recoup their investment. Some shows do manage to run for more than a year without recouping, but it’s rare.

AND ALL OF THIS ASSUMES YOU’RE ON BROADWAY FOR A SOLID YEAR, which I’m sorry to say, most of us aren’t. Most of us are working in regional theatre, stock, showcases, tours, all places where the money is significantly less.

We don’t do it for money. We do it for love. (Cue Marvin Hamlisch…)

Look Ma

Now, before I go cry into my bucket of Ben & Jerry’s, yes, of course, there’s a way to survive. You can act for a living. But to me, the only way to do it, is by using ALL of the mediums that are out there beyond the stage: Television, Film, and Commercial work.

Why do those mediums pay so much better (on average) than theatre? I don’t have the definitive answer, but the best explanation I’ve ever heard is that in these mediums an image and a performance is captured forever. You (the actor) are paid so that someone else can use your work and likeness to promote their product or tell their story. And once it’s done, it’s done, never changing, no matter how rich and alive your work may be. You give over your SELF forever, and usually the compensation is respectable.

These jobs are often very quick—I’m speaking of commercials and “non-star” work right now; I’m not talking about series regulars or leading roles in film, I have no experience with that. Commercials are very short in length, and can be shot in a day, a weekend, or maybe a week at most if it’s very technical or involves a tough location. Small roles in TV and film are often shot in a day or two, as time is money.

So in essence, you can make a reasonable sum of money in a short amount of time. For example, last year I shot a commercial for a Health & Beauty product (don’t laugh), in which I DID NOT SPEAK; I merely snored on camera. My job requirement was to lie in a bed with my pretend wife, and snore loudly. I arrived on set at 7:00 AM, and was released at 10:30 AM. Two of those hours I spent chatting with the other actors and enjoying the free coffee and breakfast.

And for my troubles, I have been paid roughly $2,500.

“Wait, I get paid for this?”
“Wait, I get paid for this?”

Look, I know all of that was a massive humblebrag. And talking specifically about money can be distasteful, but I need you to see what I am talking about. YOU CAN’T IGNORE THESE MEDIUMS. They could save your butt someday.

The most awesome aspect of that commercial experience happened in March of this year. I shot the ad in February 2015. My initial payment came a few weeks after the shoot (that’s standard), then a little more arrived later (also standard), but that was the end of the contract. In January 2016 I returned home from a theatre gig, with no survival job, no unemployment, no income at all. But in March, as I was auditioning for whatever would come next, a check arrived in the mail. My commercial had been “picked up” for another year, so there was this lovely check in my hands, the first money I had made in 2016.

You cannot assume that just because you can act on a stage that you can act in any other medium. There are separate, definable skills that you must hone; there is a language you must learn. So get into a class, pronto.

Yes, art is awesome. You know what else is awesome? CHECKS. Checks are awesome. We often need checks to make art. Very rarely we get lucky, and we can have both.

Advancing art is easy, yes—financing it is not.” Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George.


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Stage Makeup for Actors on a Budget

Despairing about the investment you’re making in makeup before your big show?

The days of buying a pricey, yet basic, Ben Nye makeup kit to get you through a year of auditions and performances are over. With the rise in popularity of airbrush makeup, serious contouring, and mascara that mimics fake lashes, mainstream makeup has become pretty darn theatrical. This change in trend benefits no one as much as the budget-conscious actor. (And, come on, what actor is not a budget-conscious actor?!)

The classic makeup kit is a thing of the past.
The classic makeup kit is a thing of the past.

As a theatrical makeup artist, I watch actors struggle to find and pay for the “best of the best” when it comes to beauty; but we no longer live in an age in which shelling out all the cash for your beauty stash is necessary — there are plenty of basics that get the job done at a fraction of the price.


So, here are my budget-friendly actor basics! (Note: These items were picked for their price point and effectiveness, and are not recommendations motivated by any kind of deal with the companies that make them.)

Hard Candy Glamoflauge HEAVY DUTY CONCEALER with pencil (light color 312) ($10)
Whether you’ve got tattoos to cover, blemishes to conceal or dark circles that won’t quit, this small tube packs a big punch, plus it comes with a concealer pencil to really help you blend tattoo edges. It’s also less than $10.

e.l.f. Eyebrow Kit, Medium ($6)
Similar to the coveted eyebrow kit made by Benefit, this little compact comes with a powder and a gel that can be mixed together to fill in, accentuate, or create entire eyebrows that won’t budge under stage lights. At $3 it’s a done deal.

Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof Mascara, Very Black, 0.43 fl. Oz. ($4)
Year after year, this mascara is voted by fashion magazines as the best drugstore buy. It comes in both a washable variety and waterproof one, for those teary moments — and it’s a third of the price of any mascara you’ll find at MAC or Sephora. It’s so versatile you can create both a 1950’s cat eye and a 1990’s grunge look with minimal effort.

NYX Cosmetics Soft Matte Lip Cream Transylvania ($7)
Whether you need a bold or a neutral, this matte color is perfect for period shows, “no makeup” makeup, and any other time you don’t want sheen. It stays in place during mealtime, and only costs $7.

Physicians Formula Organic Wear 100% Natural Origin 2-in-1 Bronzer & Blush – Pink Rose – 0.3 oz ($20)
The most expensive item on the list, at just over $20, this compact is half brozer and half blush, perfect for contouring. Plus, it comes as a duo compact – meaning, you’re saving space, which is every actor’s dream when your dressing station is too cramped to fit your makeup arsenal. If you’re still a little confused about contouring, especially natural contouring for headshots and auditions, check out this video: https://youtu.be/LntDfujXopY

Maybelline New York Eye Studio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner, Blackest Black, 0.106 oz. ($8)
Similar to the coveted Bobbi Brown gel liner, this stuff will stay put on your lids throughout a two-show day. Plus, gel liner is the perfect hybrid, letting you achieve both the effects of a liquid and a pencil, which saves you space and product!

These six items are a great start to any actor kit, along with baby wipes, makeup wipes, q-tips, chapstick, and cotton balls. While sponges are the cheapest applicator, you’ll save in the long run by investing a little money in brushes, which you can wash and use over and over again. As for the baby wipes and makeup removers — try cutting them in half. That way you get twice the product, and don’t wind up tossing half-used wipes.

Sponges may be cheap, but they’ll absorb more makeup than they’ll deposit on your face. What a waste!
Sponges may be cheap, but they’ll absorb more makeup than they’ll deposit on your face. What a waste!

So, there you have it.  Now you’re ready to put your best face forward without breaking the bank! Plus, all of these cosmetics are great for daily use (not to mention our favorite upcoming theatrical holiday, Halloween), so no need to sequester them to your stage makeup kit!

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