While audiences flip through the playbills of Broadway shows reading the biographies of actors and directors, other unsung heroes of a Broadway show work behind the scenes. One of these individuals is the lighting designer, who is chiefly responsible for what audiences are able to see on stage, the mood of a scene and any special lighting effects during scenes. Lighting designers who work on Broadway shows are considered top professionals and their salaries reflect this.
The average salary for a lighting designer is $61,890 annually, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 report. A Broadway lighting designer may earn a large portion of this salary from a single Broadway production. The average salary for a top Broadway lighting designer is $25,000 with royalties ranging from $900 to $1,500 weekly for multi-set, long-running Broadway productions, according to Black Enterprise. As of 2011, a Broadway lighting designer may earn as much as a $6,000 contract fee for rehearsals, according to an article by Michael T. Reynolds for Talkin Broadway.
Broadway lighting designers typically belong to the union for designers (including lighting and set) known as United Scenic Artists. As such, designers are guaranteed minimum salaries by Local 829 of United Scenic Artists, which has an agreement with the Broadway League. Under its agreement--valid through 2011--lighting designers must be paid a contract fee and an advance. The average lighting designer on Broadway negotiates both fees. $4,000 is the minimum contract fee that must be paid to a lighting designer.
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For average lighting designers like Chris Akerlind, most lighting jobs come from productions outside of Broadway. In a June 2008 article for Munjoy Hill News, Akerlind explains that he will do a Broadway show because of its high salary in comparison to other jobs. Peter Maradudin, in his October 2003 article for Livedesignonline.com, confirms that many lighting designers work not only on Broadway but in off-Broadway productions, regional theater and opera productions.
Other Salary Factors
Because a number of Broadway lighting designers work freelance, the expenses that come with operating a business affect how much they earn in "take home" pay. Maradudin suggests that expenses including cell phone use, hardware and software upgrades and union dues can total roughly $2,000 per show. For lighting designers earning union scale wages, this can cut their salary in half. He adds that they may work for several weeks on the same production, often working more than eight hours per day.