Not Even: Fewer Women in Highest-Paying Jobs

How does contract type/budget size affect the gender ratios?

Women were less represented in the highest-paying jobs.

While I didn’t have access to exact budget information for Bay Area theatre companies, I was able to consider the type of Actors’ Equity contract used to produce each show. Contract types define how much artists are compensated for the work they do.  While Actors’ Equity is the union for stage actors and stage managers, often compensation for playwrights and directors falls in line with what actors are making.  Actors’ Equity productions at the highest level usually have the largest budgets and are produced by the most high profile companies in the region.  Thus, analyzing shows by contract type correlates to looking at the budget size of producing theatres.

For the purposes of this study, I divided shows into three contract categories:

  • Non-Union/Union Code: Non-union shows do not use Equity actors. Pay rates can vary wildly, but artists are typically offered some kind of stipend. Union Codes allow Equity actors to work, but without benefit of contract. Like non-union shows, pay rates can vary significantly, but all artists typically receive some kind of stipend. We have two union codes available for use in the Bay Area: the Bay Area Project Policy (BAPP) and the Member Production Code (MPC). Both have limits on rehearsal hours, size of theatre, total number of performances and more. The BAPP stipulates that no one can be paid more than the Equity actors, so other artists working on BAPP productions receive a stipend that is equal to or less than the union members’ stipend. The MPC is used by Equity members to produce their own work, and is not available to theatre companies.  The MPC has no required stipend.
  •  Equity Contract without Health Weeks: These lower level Equity contracts require that the actor is paid a weekly salary, but do not require the producer to contribute additional money to Actor’s Equity’s health care fund. A union actor working on this level of contract will not gain any eligibility for union health care coverage.  Pay rates here are are between $200-$250/week for the union actor.  Non-union actors working on these types of contracts may receive a stipend or a weekly salary depending on the company. In the Bay Area, these contracts include: Modified Bay Area Theatre Agreement (MBAT) Tier 1 only, Special Appearance Agreement (SA), Theatre for Young Audiences Agreement (TYA) per performance contract only.
  • Equity Contract with Health Weeks: When an Equity contract includes health weeks, it means that for each week the actor works, the producer not only pays their salary, but also makes a contribution to the Actors’ Equity health care fund. Actors who work enough weeks in a year at theatres that offer health weeks are eligible for union health care coverage.  Salary minimums for these contracts can range between $200-$900/week.  The health care contribution is an additional $155-$165/week.  Not all of these contracts allow for non-union actors to work on the same show as union actors, but when they do, the non-union actors can be paid a stipend or a weekly salary. These contracts include: Modified Bay Area Theatre Agreement (MBAT) Tier 2 only, Bay Area Theatre Agreement (BAT), Guest Artist Agreement (GA), Letter of Agreement (LOA), League of Resident Theatres Agreement (LORT), Theatre for Young Audiences Agreement (TYA) weekly contract only.

Additional details about these and other union codes and contracts are available on the Actors’ Equity website ( in the ‘Document Library’.

In dividing the 500 shows counted into the three contract categories described above, the following trends emerged:

  •  Women playwrights got between 3 and 4 out of 10 productions at the two lower levels, and then slid down to fewer than one quarter of shows at the highest level.
  • Women directors got about half or better of the jobs at the two lower levels, but only 37% of jobs at the highest level.
  •  Women union actors got more than half of the union roles at the lowest level, but only 39% of the union roles at the highest level.
  •  At the highest level, union and non-union women actors combined represented 43% of the total actors.
  •  At the highest level, union and non-union women worked in almost equal amounts (482 actors vs. 487 actors). However, at that same level, union men outnumbered non-union men by nearly 200 artists (744 actors vs. 549 actors). This suggests that union contracts were biased towards male actors.

The drop in women’s participation at the highest level of the compensation ladder points to a “glass proscenium” in our region’s theatres, especially for playwrights, directors, and union actors.  To break through this barrier, theatres at every level, but particularly those that offer Equity contracts with health weeks, must look for opportunities to employ more women.

TABLE 3 – Women Were Less Represented in the Highest-Paying Jobs

Non-Union/ Union Code
173 Shows
Equity Contract
No Health Weeks

57 Shows
Equity Contract w/ Health Weeks
270 Shows
72 artists
23 artists
84 artists
163 artists
37 artists
285 artists
87 artists
36 artists
123 artists
105 artists
25 artists
209 artists
Union Actors
47 artists
46 artists
482 artists
Union Actors
42 artists
74 artists
744 artists
Non-Union Actors
513 artists
147 artists
487 artists
Non-Union Actors
582 artists
207 artists
549 artists