Note: 'The Hustle' is a KQED Arts series exploring how artists make ends meet in the Bay Area. After an exodus of artists priced out of the region, every Thursday in March we talk with a different artist about how they're able to stay in the Bay Area through cost-cutting measures, side gigs, and sacrifices.
For most actors, joining the Actors Equity Association is a game-changer — a path to more exposure and higher wages. Union actors in the Bay Area can often make hundreds of dollars more per week onstage than their non-Equity counterparts, not to mention additional income from lucrative advertising, TV and movie work.
But Beth Wilmurt has never joined the union, despite having several opportunities to do so over a nearly three-decade career. One of the most multifaceted and respected theater artists in the Bay Area, she says she’s simply not willing to compromise creativity for compensation.
“I didn’t want to limit my opportunities by raising my price,” Wilmurt says. “My interests have always been much wider than the type of work typically offered to union actors in this area.”
As a result, on average she makes just $6,000 a year acting. With teaching and other gigs, Wilmurt makes, on average, a whopping $30,000 a year. Money is clearly not a motivating factor.
'A personal mission'
Wilmurt has appeared in around 60 productions over nearly three decades. She's a company member of Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, where she’s appeared in many shows; her latest, Iron Shoes, is opening this week. Her work spans everything from traditional stage plays by both dead and living playwrights, to underground cabaret shows in which she sings and plays ukulele, to experimental theater pieces involving acts of extreme physical daring.