Theater

Denver Actors Among the Best Paid Nationwide: "That's Some Bullsh*t"

Chris Kendall and Lindsey Pierce in Birds of North America.
Chris Kendall and Lindsey Pierce in Birds of North America. Michael Ensmiger
A recent U.S. News & World Report story on the hundred best-paying jobs in the country aroused some skepticism among local theater folk. It places Denver among the cities that offer the highest annual salaries for actors — $64,980.

Geographers, incidentally, make $85,860. And you might need a cartographer to figure out exactly how the magazine arrived at those numbers.

Almost all Denver area actors require day jobs to survive, and even the best rarely secure full-time work. Those who do — Buntport, for instance, has been able to issue paychecks to its five actor-writer founders through the pandemic — receive bare survival amounts.

Westword asked three of the city's most successful performers for their thoughts on the U.S. News report.

Amanda Berg Wilson is the founder and artistic director of boundary-breaking company the Catamounts; she has acted locally and also directed for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' Off-Center. Looking at the study, she was flummoxed.

"Uh...what? So do we have some secret celebrity among us that’s throwing off the average?" she wonders. "The best-paying non-Equity gigs average out to be about $15 per hour. If you’re lucky. Even an AEA contract at DCPA is probably around $800 a week, unless you’re a name. So unless someone’s got some secret underground lucrative gig pipeline I don’t know about, that’s some bullshit."

Actor Chris Kendall, who has worked extensively with local companies and received Westword’s Best Season for an Actor award in 2015, says, "I don't know whether to laugh or cry. The first question that comes to mind is: How large a sample are they averaging? Eight? Three? One? To make that much in a year, an actor would have to be employed every week at $1,249.61 a week. Who in Colorado enjoys that much work?"

Buntport ensemble member Brian Colonna was also stunned. "I'm not fair to ask because of my Buntport setup, but that number is insane! What you normally get paid in the arts has so influenced my thoughts on money that I can't imagine ever making $65,000 in any profession," he says. "Where on earth did $64,980 come from? And are all our geographer friends just as confused?"
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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman