WHERE LAST I GOT PAID TO SING -SERIES
CJ Greer balances a career as an assistant professor of music and music theatre at the University of Nevada–Reno with performing musical theatre and opera around the world, from theme parks to Broadway to Carnegie Hall. This month, she shares her experiences with performing the role of Donna in Mamma Mia!
Where did you last sing and get paid?
I was in a production of Mamma Mia! playing the role of Donna at the Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas, last May. The contract was under the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA).
How much were you paid?
I agree that we need to be talking about singer fees. And yet I would rather keep specifics out of this, as protection for the theatre company and their future hires. As a union house, Casa Mañana is held to a Council of Stock Theatre (COST) contract. The minimum salary for a COST contract at the time of this writing is $664 a week. Typically, ensemble members are offered something in this range while leads are generally offered more.
Suffice it to say that my contract was for a nice, round weekly amount. Casa Mañana also paid for my travel, housing, and rental car in addition to providing an extra stipend for marketing, publicity, and promotional interviews per the AEA union contract. The union contract also requires that the theater pays union fees, health insurance, and pension. Incidentally, five years ago I worked for them on a different production and was offered the same weekly salary. I did not choose to negotiate when offered this opportunity as it is a great place to work, a great role, and a great contract. I was happy to take it as is.
How long did it last?
Three weeks in total, plus travel days on either side.
How did you get the job?
I had worked for Casa Mañana previously. About eight months earlier, I reached out to the executive producer about their production of Mamma Mia! As an assistant professor in higher education in a tenure-track position, who is also a member of the actors’ union, it is challenging to find performing opportunities that are short enough in contract length and also fit outside of our regular weekly teaching duties. This one seemed to fit well and was a good role for me.
I had honestly forgotten about it until I received a message from the executive producer asking if I would be interested in auditioning. I double checked the performance dates and said yes—asking if video submissions would be possible for the first round since I was no longer within easy access of New York City. He said videos were fine and sent me the sides [part of the script used for the audition]. I had videos to him within the week.
One week later I was offered the role without any additional callbacks. I had never worked with the director but had worked previously with the executive producer and the musical director. I believe my prior work for them gave them, and the director at their recommendation, confidence in hiring me again.
What was your overall experience like?
So fun! It was a very positive experience. My cast mates were fabulous, and Casa Mañana treats their actors like family. If you respond in kind, then the process is very smooth, fun, and artistically fulfilling despite the very quick rehearsal process.
How did the audience respond?
Audiences loved the show—it’s Mamma Mia! after all! We had very full houses, and I believe our executive producer wished he had built an extension into our contracts for an additional week. We probably would have sold that out too. Audience members came dressed up, came to sing, and danced in the aisles with us at the end. It was a great time.
What didn’t you love?
If there is anything I wish was different about this gig, it’s the rehearsal process. If there had been one more week attached, it would not have felt quite so stressful. However, if one more week had been added, actors might not have been paid at this level.
Would you do this or a similar gig again?
Absolutely. I hope to do more with Casa Mañana Theatre in the future.
Anything else you would like to add?
In contrast to this, I will be doing my first professional opera in the spring of 2019 portraying the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra in Iowa—from Mamma Mia! to Mozart! I will be taking a substantial pay cut but am happy to do so for the experience. I did not study classically until graduate school and, until recently, I have had a career exclusively in musical theatre.
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