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Twin Cities Actor Consortium

The Twin Cities Actor Consortium seeks to address the unsustainability of actors' financial lives through a partnership between Twin Cities

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Basic Organizational Information: The Twin Cities Actor Consortium seeks to address the unsustainability of actors' financial lives through a partnership between Twin Cities Equity theater companies and members of Actors Equity to provide a cohort of actors each year with annual full-time salaries and benefits now unavailable to them as freelancers, while increasing pay for all other working actors.

In an unusually cooperative and eager collaboration, Artistic Directors and Equity Actors from 16 Equity theaters have worked together for the past year to craft a new, innovative model to support the sustainability of actor employment in the Twin Cities. Since the collapse of the repertory theater model, where a troupe of actors was steadily employed for a full season, theater companies have focused their funding on administrative staff, providing full time salaries to marketing and development staff, leaving even the most experienced actors to cobble together individual contracts with individual companies each year in hopes they can support themselves and their families. 

For the pilot phase, and based on input from actors, artistic directors, and union representatives, the Twin Cities Actor Consortium will provide a cohort of five diverse and experienced actors with salaries of $50,000, as well as four weeks paid vacation, health insurance, and pension contributions, in exchange for 40 weeks of performing and/or understudying work at any of the 16 participating theaters. Additionally, the participating theaters have agreed to redistribute the funds they would have spent on these cohort actor salaries to all other actors in their season, providing actors hired alongside the cohort with a bonus each year. 

Each summer, a year in advance of the season they are casting, Artistic Directors of the 16 participating theatres will gather to review the actor cohort applications. AD’s will rank their preferences, and five actors will be invited to participate in the cohort based on their experience and artistic excellence, their ability to be cast in enough shows across the season, and the diversity of the cohort. The Twin Cities Actor Consortium will pay their salaries biweekly once the season begins, and all theaters hosting a TCAC actor will agree to redistribute the offset costs by increasing pay for all other actors in their season. 

Explain your idea

Over and over governments and societies have found that the arts cannot be supported by the market alone. They require community investment in order to be equitable and sustainable. We propose this pilot project as a testing ground for theater actors' Universal Basic Income, with the goal to inspire philanthropists, governments, and communities to replicate this model.

Who Benefits?

The direct benefits of this proposal are the 15 cohort participants in the first 3 years of the pilot program. The next degree of benefits are the theatre companies and non-cohort actors who receive bonuses and subsidized salaries. Beyond that, the audience for those theatre companies will likely notice a marked increase in artistic quality, as will the families and friends of the artists supported. More broadly, the entire Twin Cities community will benefit from having more engaged citizen artists, higher quality arts productions, and additional capital flowing through the market. This shift will also impact the equitability of the performing arts scene, providing increased access to living wages for performers of color and others who face financial barriers to pursuing the arts as a vocation.

How is your idea unique?

There simply is no other model addressing this issue. In New York and LA, a designated social service organization called The ActorsFund helps to fill the gaps and emergencies in artists lives by providing limited funds and trainings, but this work is reactionary. Similarly some organizations offer fellowships, but these are beyond the scope of a regular working year, as well as being highly competitive and scarce. By partnering directly with Twin Cities theater companies and Actors Equity, we are binding this model to suit the needs and context of our specific community. We will be facilitating collaboration between theaters like no other model has done while relieving the financial pressure the repertory model once burdened them with. By funding this pilot program, we will be signaling to philanthropists and communities that the model can - and must - be improved to ensure artists are able to thrive in today's economy.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

The Twin Cities Actor Consortium represents an unprecedented collaboration among Equity theaters towards improving sustainable compensation for artists in our community. This problem was first the focus of the actors in the Artist Core at Ten Thousand Things Theater (TTT), who sketched out a possible solution. Michelle Hensley, Artistic Director of TTT, contacted all the other artistic directors at Twin Cities AEA theaters, who responded very quickly and enthusiastically to the idea. The group of 16 ADs first met together in Fall 2015, and agreed to break up into committees to create a plan. The committees met by phone and in person over a 9 month period, consulting with AEA and its membership along the way. The problem-solving team has already included and will continue to rely on the support of officers in the Chicago AEA branch and the Twin Cities Actors Equity Representative Greta Grosch and artistic directors at the Children's Theater Company, Frank Theater, Guthrie Theater, History Theater, Illusion Theater, The Jungle, Mixed Blood, Mu Performing Arts, The Moving Company, The Ordway, Park Square, Pillsbury House, Ten Thousand Things, Theater Latte Da, and Yellow Tree Theater, as well as the Minnesota Theater Alliance. Over 85% of local Equity actors surveyed have already approved of this pilot program, and we are eager to implement the initial phase with the first cohort of five actors, who will be instrumental in providing feedback for improvement. The group approved this pilot proposal in May 2016, and the McKnight Foundation provided $5,000 to explore fundraising opportunities for the pilot phase. The Actors Equity Association (the union for stage actors) has been enthusiastic and instrumental in crafting this pilot project, lending advice on crafting contracts and defining wages and benefits based on local and national trends. Regional theaters on both coasts, as well as national foundations and the national Actors Equity Association offices have expressed great interest in the success of this pilot program, and they are looking to it as a way to kickstart similar solutions to this crisis in their own communities, demonstrating interest in regional and national replication and impact. After spending two years with Actors Equity members and Equity theaters generating ideas, we are ready to test this new model for making actors lives sustainable. Currently, Program Consultant Andi Cheney has begun to develop the administrative structures as well as seeking funding for the program.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through an accelerator, hub, or other entity.
  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Andi!

For this challenge, the projects need to bridge two or more of peace, planet and prosperity. I can see how this project touches upon prosperity, how does it bridge prosperity and peace and/or planet?