pixeltracker

Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?

Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?

Rumpelstiltskin Profile Photo
Rumpelstiltskin
#1Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/28/24 at 6:59pm

A topic discussed frequently on these boards is whether certain actors are able to competently perform the required X shows per week on Broadway. They are judged harshly if their voices are unable to handle all of the performances, or if they simply choose to assume a less demanding schedule. This confuses me, so just throwing the question out there for you guys, because I know many of you are in the business and closer to the realities that I’m unable to see from the sidelines.

I live in Houston which prides itself on its reputation in the field of healthcare. Many of our friends work in the field in some capacity. Several have chosen to work part time, several splitting their jobs with another person, for any number of reasons that vary by person and frankly are none of my business. I’m lost as to why actors are not afforded the same opportunities and respect for their choice. If two actors of similar caliber share a role, I can’t imagine judging them for that choice; in fact, it would be exciting if very different performers were to take on roles on alternate nights. It would be a collective wet dream for us to compare the performances on these boards. Just imagine if Bette Midler agreed to Dolly but only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and Jinkx Monsoon was hired for the alternate days.  We would complain about her stamina? I think it’s more likely that ticket sales would double. (Please don’t get hung up on my hypothetical. It’s just one of a thousand fun combinations that are fun to consider.)

I’m not pretending to have thought through the details, and I know there would be a mierdaload of complications with regard to compensation, critics, awards eligibility, etc etc., but I’m confident that the industry is smart enough to resolve those challenges. (In the end, I don’t think Bette Midler would care if working part time means missing out on a dental plan.)

What am I missing?

ErmengardeStopSniveling Profile Photo
ErmengardeStopSniveling
#2Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/28/24 at 7:33pm

It was done on JAGGED LITTLE PILL, after Elizabeth Stanley returned from maternity leave. She and Heidi Blickinstaff each did 4 shows a week. Which is not that different from having a permanent alternate, or doing what SWEENEY did in the interim between Groban and Tveit.

With an above-the-title star performer it could create box office and marketing headaches. It's more complicated than just listing who performs when on the website and Telecharge.

It also only works if a performer is, for 8 shows a week, making at least double the Equity minimum, since the base salary wouldn't change.

If someone successfully cracked it, it might be done more.

Updated On: 2/28/24 at 07:33 PM

dramamama611 Profile Photo
dramamama611
#3Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/28/24 at 9:49pm

It's also a problem if putting " part time " work out there. Most actors can't afford a part time salary, and one that has no benefits. 


If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.

Jonathan Cohen Profile Photo
Jonathan Cohen
#4Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 12:44am

I think this already happens for any number of reasons. 

Donna Murphy did one show a week for much of Bette Midler's Hello, Dolly! run to give her a breather. Same with Julie Benko doing Thursday performances instead of Lea Michele on Funny Girl.  

Patina Miller and Montego Glover alternated as the Witch in the recent production of Into The Woods. This might have been about other acting commitments, not sure.  

Kid actors alternate on on roles so they're not legally over worked. 

The Phantom of the Opera used two actresses for Christine each week, I believe because of how vocally demanding the role is.   

Then there is Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly who performed in True West every night, but switched which role they were playing. 

dramamama611 Profile Photo
dramamama611
#5Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 5:35am

I don't think alternates are quite the same thing as the op is suggesting, which seems to be a 50/50 split. 

Nor is your True West example... Two actors playing two characters full time.  

 

The kid thing is real and expensive. 


If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.

The8re phan Profile Photo
The8re phan
#6Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 6:18am

Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternated the two leading roles in the recent revival of the Little Foxes 


Slotted spoons don't hold much soup

hearthemsing22
#7Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 8:43am

ErmengardeStopSniveling said: "It was done on JAGGED LITTLE PILL, after Elizabeth Stanley returned from maternity leave. She and Heidi Blickinstaff each did 4 shows a week. Which is notthatdifferent from having a permanent alternate, or doing what SWEENEY did in the interim between Groban and Tveit.

With an above-the-title star performerit could create box office and marketing headaches. It's more complicated than just listing who performs when on the website and Telecharge.

It also only works if a performer is, for 8 shows a week, making at least double the Equity minimum, since the base salary wouldn't change.

If someone successfully cracked it, it might be done more.
"

I do agree that it could create a lot of headaches if it's not just a replacement, but performers sharing the role. Especially if it's people who are big names, above the title, then they're not there for a performance, and you have an understudy step in, and people complain...it just is easier to have a standby or something. 

SeanD2
#8Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 8:54am

Which would get the Tony eligibility? That question automatically makes it not a true 50/50 split.

imeldasturn Profile Photo
imeldasturn
#9Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 9:47am

Sorry for the digression but a couple of the answers here make me worry about people's reading comprehension 

BrodyFosse123 Profile Photo
BrodyFosse123
#10Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 9:47am

The8re phan said: "Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternated the two leading roles in the recent revival of the Little Foxes"

Oddly enough, Linney was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award and Nixon for Best Featured Actress. 


Wick3 Profile Photo
Wick3
#11Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 11:30am

dramamama611 said: "It's also a problem if putting " part time " work out there. Most actors can't afford a part time salary, and one that has no benefits."

I think the OP meant actors in leading roles. Bette Midler earned roughly $150k for 7 performances/week in the 2017 Hello Dolly revival. If she worked only 4 performances, then she'd earn around $85k a week, which is still a great salary for most people living in NYC.

I don't know how much Donna Murphy earned for performing 1 performance a week at Hello Dolly but if it's at the same rate as Bette's, it would have been $21k a week (I'm guessing it was more likely between $15k-$20k), which is also enough for most people living in NYC. 

 

Updated On: 2/29/24 at 11:30 AM

chrishuyen
#12Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 11:56am

I do think that had this been a thing in the early days of the industry, we might have a better infrastructure in place for this regarding things like compensation/awards eligibility etc., but so many Broadway shows have been built on a singular star vehicle in a "must-see" performance, and I think that's just how we conceive of it now. And I think it can be a bit of a "flex" to say that you're doing 8 shows a week, particularly in a difficult role.  It's a bit of an accomplishment to be on Broadway for that reason alone.

With all due respect to the healthcare profession, I think there's also not as much personal stake in which provider you see.  Obviously, people have preferences and can schedule specifically who they want to see, but if it's an emergency they'll probably take whoever is available.  For a Broadway show, if people are spending $200 for a show, it would really depend on the pairing of how actors are splitting roles--if one actor is much more popular than the other, it creates a lopsided supply and demand curve, to the point where it would probably just make more sense to have a lead/alternate schedule anyway.

Of course, there could also theoretically be a pair of actors where there would be "equal" demand for each and it could possibly generate more ticket sales if people want to see both, but given that the main audience for Broadway shows is tourists, I think it would be unlikely for them to see the same show twice unless both actors were VERY compelling.  And if it's a matter of generating ticket sales, then that wouldn't be all that different from just having replacement actors later in the run to try to get repeat viewers.

Also as a matter of rehearsal, I think it could be tough to try to mount a new production and rehearse two leads at a time.  Understudies usually aren't even rehearsed that much until the show is on its feet, and depending on the show, a lot of the choices that the leading actor makes can really inform how the character is written or the tone of the show, so what do you do when there's two conflicting interpretations?  And there's also the question of who to push for marketing and things like TV show appearances.

The types of shows I can see this working for are maybe shows that have already had an initial run with a singular actor and down to replacement casting (like if they had done a 50/50 split for Sweeney between Aaron Tveit and someone else), or maybe celebrity casting with a notable Broadway actor as the secondary actor (you could have your celebrity to generate tickets amongst the non-theater crowd and a big theater star for tickets among the theater crowd, though striking the right balance might still be tricky), or something like Six where the show is built more on ensemble and less on individual stars (and they also have a fairly dedicated fanbase with a lot of people who want to see every iteration of the role).

Kad Profile Photo
Kad
#13Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 11:56am

There is no way on earth Murphy was making even close to the same rate as Midler. Midler is a major outlier in terms of pay for a lead- that rate is really reserved for major, major names. 


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."

QueenAlice Profile Photo
QueenAlice
#14Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 12:25pm

It is purely economics. Assuming an actor equally splitting a role would make 1/2 of the salary is one consideration for the actor. Having different actors requiring multiple costumes and rehearsal schedules would be a major economic consideration for the producer.


“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”

MayAudraBlessYou2 Profile Photo
MayAudraBlessYou2
#15Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 1:08pm

I echo the thoughts of most here in terms of the economic infeasibility that this scenario would unearth (and in most cases, a battle of egos when it came to who would be eligible for awards). But I will also add to the pile that any type of deviation from the norm is VERY difficult from a marketing standpoint. Audiences are not trained to spend lots of time digesting lots of show details, they simply see something that hooks them and then go buy it. Here Lies Love had a devil of a time just trying to convey their unique seating (and standing) arrangement to people. Marketing two different names would be equally as challenging (how do you convey to a casual passerby/tv watcher/internet scroller/etc that when you buy tickets to "New Musical A" that you actually WONT see both of the stars they saw in the ad. They would need to attend twice in order to do that. And then if one star is a bigger draw for a specific customer, said customer is now expected to search for the performance schedule (which will undoubtedly have alterations when there are vacation days and like) and perhaps the star they want to see isn't performing on days that work for them on their vacation. It's a bit of a mess. It can be overcome, but as a general rule: any type of complexity is a hurdle for ticket sales.

The True West and Little Foxes examples are much more palatable. Those productions appealed to theater folk who might actually go twice, and both actors were always in the show, just different parts. (side note: If Death Becomes Her proves a success, I hope Hilty and Simard alternate roles like this. As great as they will undoubtedly be in their assigned parts...I cant stop picturing each of them playing the opposite role and knocking it out of the park. Give us both!). Having a one or two performance alternate is also more palatable because this is usually only adopted when the lead is not a star whose name is selling tickets (very few people bought a ticket to Phantom to see a specific actress as Christine, so who cares if she has a night off to maintain her voice). The Midler/Murphy example being the most obvious exception to the rule (but Bette made them SO much money in 7 performances that it didnt matter).

Updated On: 2/29/24 at 01:08 PM

Fan123 Profile Photo
Fan123
#16Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 3:35pm

As a side note, you might be interested in looking up the South Korean scene, which casts 2-3 people in each lead role as a matter of course, at least in musicals. (I think Japan sometimes does this as well.) This blog post highlights some of the problems with that approach: https://musicalholic21.wordpress.com/2023/04/23/article_trans-overlap-appearance-problem/. Reading between the lines, one can see some potential benefits as well. For example, double/triple-casting is apparently so universal over there that a star can potentially star part-time in two shows at once, because both shows are already dealing in multiple part-time stars. That would theoretically solve the salary challenge for that person, while a different star might just do a 'half week' in a single role if that would work better for them. However I'll admit that that's an optimistic view, while this article points out how it can play out in reality, for example, "Many actors who play the lead role [...] can [only] earn enough income through overlapping appearances, so they appear in several works, and this often causes them to be criticized by the audience for poor physical condition."

Edit: It's also interesting to see how the marketing for multiple stars in the same roles is handled. For example, this promo video for 'Death Note': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gz0SQtGuX-Q.

Updated On: 2/29/24 at 03:35 PM

hearthemsing22
#17Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 3:48pm

If they share the role, who would go on if an actor called out sick? The understudy or the other actor sharing the role? How would they get paid? Too many factors 

Kad Profile Photo
Kad
#18Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 4:35pm

On its face, I don’t think double casting a role and divvying up performances between the actors each week is a bad idea. And there is some precedence here that I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned yet: Billy Elliott and Matilda basically did what is being suggested, only with kids. 

The main problem of course is that the industry is built on the assumption principal actors will play all or most of the performances in a week. So yeah there would need to be discussions on how to contract it, pay it, how it gets covered, and so on. But I don’t think it’s insurmountable.

I think it’s something better suited to long running shows, though. New productions rely a lot on having must-see performances, and producers will likely see having multiple performers handling a role as something confusing to audiences. Actors themselves will likely be unwilling to cede the spotlight when they’re taking on a role in a new show. 
 

But long running hits- why not? Why not have two actresses playing Elphaba or something, and splitting the performance schedule? Most ticket buyers won’t care or notice. 


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."

PennClassic Profile Photo
PennClassic
#19Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 5:10pm

I always felt that 8 performances per week was very difficult to maintain with consistency, especially with a star-driven production.  It would be better if the schedule for Broadway shows could be reduced to 6 performances per week.  It may take longer to recoup investments but it would help performers to better preserve their energy level and perhaps there would be a significant reduction in absences.

Updated On: 2/29/24 at 05:10 PM

Wick3 Profile Photo
Wick3
#20Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 5:30pm

I recall when Ferryman was on Broadway, they hired 4 six-month old babies but only 1 performed each evening. Each performance had 2 babies backstage and each baby can perform at most 4x a week. Each baby was paid around $1000/week, which is not bad.

 

ChairinMain Profile Photo
ChairinMain
#21Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 2/29/24 at 6:02pm

BrodyFosse123 said: "The8re phan said: "Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternated the two leading roles in the recent revival of the Little Foxes"

Oddly enough, Linney was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award and Nixon for Best Featured Actress.
"

They were nominated for the roles they each played on the production's opening night; so Linney was nominated for Regina and Nixon for Birdie.

silent
#22Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 3/1/24 at 1:47am

Effie White is a role that should have two actresses in the part. Maybe one day a revival producer will realize that. 

JustAnotherNewYorker
#23Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 3/1/24 at 11:58am

The8re phan said: "Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternated the two leading roles in the recent revival of the Little Foxes"

Was a great decision for the producer's pocketbook. I ended up seeing it twice because of this.

BeingAlive44Ever
#24Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 3/1/24 at 12:30pm

I think that, while it is mostly because of billing and economics, as many people have said, a big part of it is cultural. I know, personally, that, as an aspiring Broadway performer with a background in opera, I hear people doing things with their voices in community and lower level professional theatre productions with me and scoff, thinking "they'd never make it through eight shows a week." In my mind, it's somehow a right of passage, almost like you aren't "worthy" unless you can do eight shows a week. It's a horrible outlook, but I think that a lot of people implicitly think that. Of course, for all I know I'd die if I had to do eight shows a week. I'll update you on that when I make my Broadway debut. 

Fosse76
#25Why don’t actors share roles on Broadway?
Posted: 3/1/24 at 2:58pm

dramamama611 said: "It's also a problem if putting " part time " work out there. Most actors can't afford a part time salary, and one that has no benefits."

Considering they only work part time, they already get a full-time salary. Name other, more deserving professions, for which this is true.


Videos