How the Theater Landscape Has Changed for BIPOC Actors

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Lin-Manuel Miranda should be proud. According to Actors’ Equity Association, “Hamilton” has led to a sizable increase in jobs for actors of color. This is one of the findings in Equity’s second ever diversity report, which tracks the demographics of its 51,000 members that received Equity contracts from 2016 to 2019, and how much they were paid.

The study measures race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, and veteran status across 93,957 contracts. It finds that based on the previous study, released in 2017, contracts for BIPOC actors increased, from 15.3% to 23.3%. Though that is still lower than BIPOC representation in America, which is 39.6% according to the 2010 U.S. Census Community Survey. White actors were represented 63.95% of the time. And according to the study, “much of the increased representation of people of color can be attributed to multiple productions of ‘Hamilton.’ ”

“This report shows that there have been some gains: For example, a higher percentage of total contracts nationally have gone to women as well as people of color. However, these gains have been woefully insufficient, and not uniformly true across the country,” said Equity’s Executive Director Mary McColl in a statement.

In terms of gender, contracts for women increased from 43.5% to 44.9%, so more contracts still go to men (51.42%). Barely 1% of all contracts went to Equity members with a disability. When broken down by jobs, women are more likely to be represented in stage manager contracts (65.48%) versus acting (where they’re represented at around 40%). 

The study also finds that women, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming Equity members earned less than white men for the same job; cis white men were more likely to be paid above Equity minimum. 

And there’s also a disparity in diversity when it comes to principal versus supporting roles. The chorus is usually more diverse (30.96% BIPOC) versus principal roles in a musical (21.7%) and play (23.30%). When it comes to age, contracts for Equity members of color tend to skew younger, while if there were opportunities for members over 65 (which were only 3.37% of all contracts), they more likely went to white members. Age-wise, a majority of Equity contracts (51.24%) went to members ages 25 to 44.

Equity plans to release the diversity report annually. The full report can be read here.

“Equity cannot control who an individual employer chooses to hire, but we can be lout and insistent in calling out a structure built on biases both implicit and over,” said McColl. “It is our duty to be part of the solution, to work to tear down barriers and rebuild a structure that is truly inclusive.”