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'Hamilton' Producers Strike Deal To Share Profits With Original Cast Members


The Broadway hit musical "Hamilton" has been nominated for 16 Tony Awards - that's a record.


ANTHONY RAMOS: (As John Laurens, rapping) Founding Father without a father. Got a lot farther by working a lot harder.

CORNISH: "Hamilton" has been sold out on Broadway for months, so lots of Broadway investors have had their eye on a deal "Hamilton" producers struck to share a percentage of the show's blockbuster profits with the actors in the cast, not just the show's creators.

Here to talk about all this is Michael Paulson. He covers theater for The New York Times. He joins us now from their newsroom. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So explain this deal. What are the actors going to get?

PAULSON: So the details of the deal have not been made public and some of them are still being negotiated, but our general understanding is that those performers who were part of "Hamilton" either in the developmental stage or on opening night off-Broadway or on Broadway will share in a percentage of the profits of the show. And that means the profits from the Broadway production, from other commercial productions like a tour and profits from merchandise.

CORNISH: And this was a fight, right? Producers didn't necessarily volunteer for this profit-sharing agreement.

PAULSON: The producers did not volunteer. When the actors initially asked for this, they were rebuffed. But their desire to share in the profits was intensified as it became clear that the show was going to be enormously profitable.

CORNISH: Now deals like this aren't unprecedented. And I understand a major turning point was back in the '70s with the show "A Chorus Line," where the actors, the dancers, their personal stories were actually used in the development of that musical.

PAULSON: Yeah. Many of your listeners have probably seen or listened to "A Chorus Line."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) One singular sensation, every little step she takes. One -

PAULSON: Those dancers famously signed away the rights to their life stories for $1 each. And they went back to Michael Bennett, who created the show, and asked to be compensated for their work in the creation of the show. And again, after some difficult negotiations, he agreed. Over the decades since, there have been a lot of different methods of compensating actors for shows. And it's important to remember that most musicals fail. Broadway is a graveyard of dreams, and so this is only an issue in cases where a show takes off.

CORNISH: I know one argument from producers or investors is that - look, we're the ones taking the financial risk, they'll say, so they feel like they should get the profits. Do you see this as a trend, really, or does it seem like it's got to be a "Hamilton" before this conversation happens?

PAULSON: This has become, because of the success of "Hamilton," a very hot issue among actors and their union, Actors' Equity. Actors are talking about it. Producers are concerned and writers are concerned for two reasons. One is, as you suggest, who is entitled to the money? Where does the money come from that might go to actors? Does it come out of some producer's pocket?

And the other is who should get credit for creating a show? Are actors who help workshop a show really part of its creation, or is the creation entirely the work of the writers?

CORNISH: Does a deal like this change the calculation for other shows going forward?

PAULSON: I think it does. We've already seen one show immediately affected. There's a new musical called "Shuffle Along" and on the opening night, the producers made an announcement that they would share revenue from that show with actors who were part of the development. So we're already seeing that producers are aware that actors are hungry to be credited for their work, and I think that that's going to continue to be an issue in the commercial theater world.

CORNISH: Michael Paulson covers theater for The New York Times. Thank you so much for explaining this to us.

PAULSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.