As a nearly 20-year veteran improviser, I have long lived and laughed in an environment where very few performers, if any, are compensated for what they do onstage. In fact, I can count on two hands the amount of improv theaters who have structure in place to pay their performers, and this has always seemed like an area for improvement in this art form that I love so much. But there is a shift happening, and there are improv theaters as of late (like those in the article linked above) who are a positive force for change. And it has been my personal mission and a goal of the Stomping Ground organization to join the ranks and be a part of the cultural shift towards compensating improvisers for their time and talent.
Many improvisers, including some of us at SG, love this art form and would continue to hit the stage for free. Thus is the struggle of artists who delight in their craft- we find joy in the process and performance and as a result sometimes undervalue ourselves and our art. We do what we do because we love it. We see the ticket sales rolling in and don’t stop to consider that those ticket sales would not happen without our time, training, talent, and dedication. We are driving the business. But we, as artists, must realize that as with in any other job/profession/art form, compensation helps create a healthier, happier, and more motivated workforce, which results in a better product; that great product results in a better audience, which can then result in higher compensation, thus creating a beautiful cycle with a healthier environment for the performers, organization, and audience alike. Compensating artists is a win-win-win.
So, in an effort to be a part of positive change, Stomping Ground has found a way to compensate our regular performers while still sustaining and growing our young organization. And I’m excited to announce that Stomping Ground will begin paying our main stage performers in 2019 (effective January 1).
How It Will Work: Our goal is to compensate the performers who have dedicated their time and talent to the SG stage. After taking a long look at the budget and our performer base, for 2019 we have implemented the following pay structure:
For all non-student SG-created scripted and unscripted shows, SG House Teams, improv teams comprised solely of SG staff members, and SG CORE Teams, SG will take the first $150 of ticket sales from each show. Everything above that amount will be paid to teams/performers for that show.
-For visiting shows with multiple show runs, SG will take the first $150 of ticket sales from each show and anything above that amount will be paid to teams/performers for that show.
-For Local Access Stand Up Shows, SG will take the first $150 of ticket sales, the Headliner will take the following $50, and the remaining will be distributed to performers for that show (including the Headliner).
The Philosophy Behind our Pay Structure: Our nonprofit organization’s mission statement is to “enrich the community through comedy.” And, we can’t do that if we’re closed. So we don’t want to risk paying out too much too soon to the performers such that it threatens the life and vitality of the organization as a whole. As much as we would love to do a “guaranteed pay” or a door split, we aren’t in the position to do that quite yet. We haven’t been open a year yet and we are still building our audience and organization. Our attendance varies wildly from show to show; some shows have a handful of audience members; some shows sell out. However, this structure is a step in the right direction. We think it is important to compensate the performers who have continually dedicated themselves to the success of this organization and its mission and continually produce quality shows for the SG stage. And we want more performers to make their home at SG. The 2019 pay model and split will allow us to continue to build our audience, value the artists who commit to sharing their time and talent, but not pay out so much that we are shuttered in 2020.  And our performer payment structure will be re-assessed at the end of each calendar year to see if changes can be or need to be made.  While some shows in these early years will have modest audiences, this structure is a great place to start as we look towards selling out our 75-seat venue for every performance.
This pay structure allows us to be a positive force towards changing the improv comedy culture but also ensures that our organization can continue to grow. We will continue to carry out our mission of enriching the community through comedy, and performer compensation allows us to do this even better. We hope you’ll continue to support our mission and make your home at Stomping Ground as a student, performer, or audience member.
Lindsay Goldapp
Managing Director
Stomping Ground Comedy