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In this episode, Chelsea sits down with Broadway star Nik Walker to talk Hamilton, Ain't Too Proud, being in the actors' union, and what actors working on Broadway really make.

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Hello, everyone.

This is me preempting myself to just give a quick update that the show that Nik Walker was starring in when we filmed this interview just a few short months ago here in the TFD offices, Ain't Too Proud, recently closed on Broadway. He has, however, announced that he will be making his return to the Broadway stage as Aaron Burr in Hamilton.

We stan. So if you're interested in seeing Nik do what he does best on the stage, you can catch him doing that in Hamilton. Hello, everyone, and welcome to our latest episode of The Financial Confessions.

It is I, your host, Chelsea Fagan, founder and CEO of The Financial Diet, and person who just loves talking about money. And today, we're talking about an aspect of money that, for those who were in New York City last year or aware of New York City existing, was a pretty hot topic during the worst of the pandemic. As I'm sure everyone is aware, things shut down, and nothing was shut down more than in-person experiences.

That means things like concerts. That means things like sports. But it also means things, notably, like plays, theater, acting.

And just because you may not yourself be an actor does not mean that your broader economy is not impacted when these types of things are shutting down. At least here in New York City, it's not just the theaters themselves that are closed and all of the people who work on these shows out of work. It's also all of the restaurants, coffee shops, bars, stores around these parts of the city that depend on that traffic.

We have, in New York City, an entire dinner service schedule that is centered around the idea of people going to shows after getting food. So we heard a lot about actors and all of the other people who make plays and theater and live experiences happen being out of work. You might have seen fundraisers.

You might have seen charity drives, even galas, things like that, to raise money for these people, but we didn't often talk to these people about what it really looked like for everything to be shut down. And I think part of that might be because we rarely talk to people in entertainment industries about what it's actually like for them financially the rest of the time. Because as you can probably imagine, even when things are not shut down, even when business is booming in places as lucrative as Broadway is, that does not always trickle down to everyone who is a part of making these shows happen.

So I wanted to find someone to talk about not just what it looked like to be an actor last year, but also what it looks like to be in this industry in all times, including some of the most lucrative ones. Luckily, I have an internet friend who, in addition to being a Broadway star himself, is also unusually candid about all of these topics and willing to talk. He's currently starring in Ain't Too Proud to Beg on Broadway.

He formerly played Aaron Burr in Hamilton. He was also in Peter and the Starcatcher. You might have also seen him on Law & Order SVU.

The man has been around. And today he's in the TFD office, not too far from where he's about to go do a show just later today. His name is Nik Walker.

Welcome to our studio. Thank you so much for having me in this wonderful studio. It is a pleasure to be here.

Thank you. So currently, as I mentioned, you're starring in Ain't Too Proud to Beg. And that is a show in which, it's sort of-- what do they call them, a jukebox musical?

Jukebox, yeah. So it's Ain't Too Proud. And it's so funny, because you want to say the whole thing.

Everyone's always like, Ain't Too Proud to Beg, but it's like, Ain't Too Proud. They just keep it short. Yeah, it's a jukebox musical about the life and times of The Temptations.

In fact, I believe that is the subtitle of the show, is The Life and Times of The Temptations. And it's really a beautiful project. So often I think on Broadway, one of the things-- you talk about the meeting of commerce and art, right?

So especially on Broadway, where this is kind of this mecca of New York, you want to both do things that are both artistically valuable but also catch the eye of tourists as they come in. And I think one of the things I'm so proud of with this show is that it kind of finds a balance of both. You do get these songs that everyone knows and this group that everyone knows, but our book writer, Dominique Morisseau, who is a brilliant mind, a highly lauded and awarded mind, did this wonderful thing where she was like, cool.

I'm going to give you the story of The Temptations, but really I'm going to give you the story of five young Black men living through the civil rights movement, and they happen to be Temptations. And so that's really what our story kind of takes from, is just that experience that, for better or worse, is very relevant to today. So yeah, Ain't Too Proud is a good home to have, for sure.

Man, and you really undersold it when you-- so we've followed each other on social media for a while, and he messaged me on Twitter and was like, oh, I'm in a show. I can grab you seats if you'd like to come see it. And in my mind, I'm expecting you to, like, walk across the stage for five minutes.

Because I mean, you know, listen. We live in New York. We meet a lot of actors.

They don't usually star in shows, and if they do, that is the first thing you'll ever hear from them. And so you never leave the stage during this show. I do not. [LAUGHS] You're narrating it.

You're in every number. Like, you basically are the show. So A, hats off for being humble, but B, how do you physically do it four or five times a week?

Still figuring that out. And especially-- so what's kind of amazing, if there is a silver lining to the pandemic, which there might not be-- let us see. But one of the things that is amazing is that, coming back, we were coming back to a seven show schedule.

So usually we're on an eight show a week schedule. This time around, at least for the first couple of months, it's been seven shows a week, which has been super helpful, especially for this show, as our bodies readjust, as our minds readjust to this thing. So that has been kind of a nice aid, to be like, cool, OK, I'm not doing what I was doing previous.

This is kind of, in some regards, a break. In other regards, not so much, especially because we're adding that eighth show back next week. So by the time this airs, we will be back on an eight show schedule.

Woof. And that will be a thing. But you know, I think that what it comes down to is discipline.

And that's something I know you talk often about, on both this pod and your channel, but just what it means to be disciplined, which I'm, again, still figuring out. But what I do know is, you're not necessarily living like a monk, but you are very aware that your day is centered around three to six hours. So everything you do previous and after those three to six hours has to, in some way, not hinder you during those three to six hours.

So if it's a two-show day-- I mean, I'm rarely going out after the show. If I am going out, I'm going to a chill bar, generally a place that does not have loud music. I'm really not hanging with more than two or three people, and especially in COVID times, because we do have to maintain a bubble as a cast.

I'm probably going outside. So it's probably some-- there's a place I go that has this wonderful outdoor trolley with heaters and stuff that so many places are doing. But then it's also, as we were talking about before we started recording, what you eat.

So I'm not-- my wife will tell you, I have the mind of a 10-year-old, often, about things. If you come up to my dressing room, it's all comic books and movie posters and superhero stuff. I literally-- I'm a child.

And I also love sugary cereals. I love those things. The fans send me boxes of sugary-- I have maybe 12 boxes of Cap'n Crunch just lined up on my shelf.

Good cereal. Great cereal. Does not cut the roof of your mouth.

But can't eat-- It does, but that's why it's good. Continue. [LAUGHS] Agree. Agree.

I actually agree. I agree with that. But can't eat that every day, as much as I would love to.

It's really protein and vegetables and a lot, a lot, a lot of water, and electrolytes. I also have a great team on the stage with me. So it starts with my dresser, Marissa, who is basically like my savior.

Because I also have asthma. So doing the show in a cold, dry theater, especially now, during the pandemic, there are so many nights when I come off during intermission and I'm just like, [GASPS]. So she has my emergency inhaler the two times that I do step off stage for a quick change, which is literally about five people ripping my clothes off, and putting clothes on, and shoving water in my mouth, and pushing me back out on stage.

She has ginger chews for me. She has a lozenge for me, anything that I could need possibly. Gatorade, they sneak me, Powerade, coconut water in little moments on the stage.

So all those things combine into doing seven shows a week. I've only called out one so far, knock on wood. There's no wood here, so I'll just do this.

Yeah. Sorry. No, it's all right.

It's all right. It's fine. But yeah, it definitely is-- you're kind of adjusting how you are operating in the world, which is not a bad thing.

It's just something you have to kind of get used to day by day. Now, I'm curious about-- so obviously, I mean, as you said, you have to have an extremely high level of discipline. I could never-- [LAUGHS] --I just like-- the cereal alone.

I love cereal, my beloved fiberglass Cap'n Crunch. Yes. Yes.

I could never give that up. But I also imagine that being in a role that has so much physicality, is so visible, that it must kind of put you in a weird space with your physical appearance, in terms of wanting to be in perfect shape all the time, being very aware of what you look like, this, that, and the other. And obviously, coming out of the pandemic, where a lot of people were sitting at home all day, I think a lot of people developed a sort of strange relationship with their bodies, but I imagine all the more so when you're now getting back onto stage eight times a week.

So how has that been in general, and specifically coming out of the pandemic? Oh, we could write a book on that. Well, and it's interesting, because you have to understand, my resume is mostly musical theater at this point, mostly Broadway, but I never studied musical theater.

I was a Shakespeare major in school. So I was around actors. And what was wonderful about that was the idea of all shapes and sizes and, just, people.

And I say that with a caveat of I also went to NYU, which brings its own-- I love that school. I am also an adjunct at that school. But it comes with a litany of socioeconomic questions.

To say the least. To say the least. Was a real estate firm that happens to teach classes. [LAUGHTER] Was I the token of my class?

Absolutely. So I wasn't seeing a lot of people who looked like me, just physically, aesthetically. That has now changed in so many ways, which I'm so proud of.

But I say all this to say, when you get into Broadway, when you start booking these musicals and you see the dancing ensemble, you see people who really do movement for their lives, the amount of insecurities and just triggers that hit you-- because these are people who, their bodies are literally built to do this. And I'm coming out of a thing where it's like, oh, yeah, just relax into yourself. And you look your best, but it's not about having the abs, and it's not about having the biceps.

It's just, who are you and what do you want to present? And then you get to this sector of acting, and you're like, wow, y'all are just like just Adonis, Adonis, Adonis, Adonis. And what does that mean?

So you're already judging yourself. I think the thing that I'm so proud of Ain't Too Proud for doing is that prior to the pandemic-- or not prior to the pandemic-- prior to us coming back, about six months out, when we knew what our reopening date was, the company sat down, the cast. We all got together outside of our union, and we were just like, cool.

So we're coming back. We are a building of 90% Black performers trying to do a show in this time. On the very basic level, what do we need to feel safe coming back in this building?

And so we made kind of a list, a list that we sent to our producers, and were just like, hey, here are the things we're thinking about. And our producers are amazing people, and I don't just say that because they're my bosses. I really mean that, because there are so many producers who wouldn't have done this.

Our producers were listening to everything we listed. And one of the things that we listed was, there can be no comment on what our bodies look like coming out of this. There's just none.

And not that it would have been acceptable previous, but especially now. If you need us to look a certain way, we understand that we are playing historical characters who looked a certain way. Fine.

But that is an encouragement and not a descending on us with criticism or passive aggressive anything. That's, hey, previous, we had a membership at Equinox, so get that back. Give us a health stipend if you can.

How can you encourage us to take care of ourselves as opposed to exposing us as having not taken care of ourselves? And that is something that has happened. So I think on the very basic level, we have attacked this in this time as something of like, let's just be empathic and human and genuine and kind and not make anyone feel ashamed for what-- because whatever their body is doing, it took care of them.

If they're walking back into the building, they are alive, which in the past two years is a massive statement. So can we just appreciate that? And our producers and our creative team were all extremely on board with that, and not just about the physical appearance.

We had mental health professional. We had EDI consultants. We really were like, let's-- EDI?

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Pink Cornrows was the firm that came in, run by a wonderful woman named Ify, who is just the best and not corporate, in the best sense of the word, just really trying to bridge human connection. And so we were able to just have honest talks about how we felt coming back into this building.

So that's been huge. Yeah, I have to be honest. Before-- pre-pandemic, I followed a fair amount of, not even specifically Broadway, but I don't know how I ended up with a bunch of dancers and stuff like that on my Instagram, and I was like, oh, no.

Because even before-- I shouldn't have been following this before, but after, I certainly don't need pictures of someone with, like, a 12 pack on my feed in between pictures of cookies. I don't need that in my life. You talked about my time in Hamilton.

There's a guy in Hamilton named Thayne Jasperson. Thayne, if you're watching this, I hope you know I'm talking about you. I'm about to call you out in the best way.

I'm so sorry, but I also don't care. Thayne has the body, literally, of Hercules. And I do not understand it.

He also-- you will find him in his dressing room eating tubs of chocolate ice cream. When I say, actual, like, just-- and like cookies, and cakes, and pies. And I just hate you, Thayne, I hate your guts.

Thayne is canceled. Thayne is canceled. None of us need you.

I'm so glad that that got said. Thayne Jasperson, you're gone. You're out.

Man, going to Schmackary's, the real Broadway institution. Oh, it actually is. [LAUGHS] It's really fascinating, because Schmackary's-- there's a tradition of-- A cookie shop off-Broadway. Yes.

And it's a wonderful cookie shop. We love it here. And if you ever-- I'll say, one of the Broadway traditions is, if anybody ever has a good date, let's say-- that's the PC way of saying it-- not the PC-- the nice way-- you have a responsibility, then, that next day to bring in Schmackary's.

Or Krispy Kreme. It can also be Krispy Kreme. This is implied it's a sleepover.

It is a sleepover. It's a very nice-- so there's a lot of Cap'n Crunch. Oh my gosh.

OK. You mentioned the union. You mentioned Hamilton.

Crack these knuckles. Let's go. It's time to talk about money.

Boom. So you were in Hamilton for how long? All told, almost four years.

Oh. And safe to say, it was like the biggest musical at that time. Yes.

I mean, it probably still is. Yes. What did you make?

So to answer this question, I'm going to answer it in the years that I was in it, because-- so understand that I started in Hamilton as an ensemble member covering George Washington, Mulligan, Madison, and Aaron Burr. So I was in the Broadway company as the understudy for those roles. My ensemble track, Man 6, was known as the ninja track, because literally, to this day, if you can spot Man 6 on the stage, I will actually give you $5.

Like, there's no way. You're never going to-- I love that track. It is 100% a track that's there to support vocally the show, because it's not a dancer track.

The ensemble of that show is very much about dancers. And so it's there to support vocally and to understudy these big roles. So when I was in Hamilton, I was getting-- depending on what the show is, our union has a minimum for a production contract.

A production contract is basically-- anything that's on Broadway right now is on a production contract. It's the biggest contract we have. It handles the shows with the most capital.

And there's a minimum to that, which is about $1,900. I believe we-- and it's actually a little over that. I'm not thinking of the exact number in my head.

Per show. Per week. Per week. $1,900 per week.

So you are getting-- that is Broadway minimum, and that's where, often, ensemble sits. But then you get, if you have any sort of-- it's like hazard pay. If you're doing something that's particularly dangerous or a special skill, you get bumps for that.

If you are understudying, you get bumps for that. It used to be the type of thing where, when you were understudying, you would get those bumps as your base pay, and then every time you went on for them, it used to be that you would get an eighth of the principal actor's salary for that show that you covered them for. Now it's a different rate.

It's a different number, and I'm, to be honest with you, not exactly sure how that number is calculated. But you do get a fee on top of yours for every time you go on. So it sounds like the base for that track is about $63,000 a year or something like that.

Yeah-- mmm. $1,900 a week, that's close to $100 a year. Wait. What?

Yeah, you're-- Oh, right, because there's four weeks in a month, you idiot. There's four weeks a month. Yeah, so-- Oh my god. --you're about I think $120, actually.

Yeah. So like $120 for ensemble. $120 for ensemble. So it's-- Wow. --which is great.

If you join a Broadway show, and you're on a production contract, you are making six figures to start, which is amazing. You get two weeks of vacation time. And as an ensemble member, you have paid sick days.

As a principal actor, you do not. So depending on how much you make, every day that you are sick, an 1/8 of your salary-- Whew. --of your weekly. So it behooves you not to be sick.

I guess probably the logic there is that you're a big part of the draw. Yes. And people are going to be pissed if they're seeing an understudy, which sucks for the understudies.

It's horrible-- and that's one thing that I do want to say. Understand that understudies are very much the quarterbacks of Broadway, both in plays and musicals. And I think there's a stigma there that, like, oh, I'm seeing the understudy.

I started as an understudy. These people will one day be leading their own shows. I mean, the mental capacity that it takes to do what they're doing is gargantuan.

And I think that-- understand that, yeah, maybe they don't get as much rehearsal time in that role because they have anywhere from 5 to 10 of the roles in their head at any given time, but they are doing the best they can in the craziest of circumstances. Because we're not even talking about split tracks, split track meaning a time when you are on for one role, and then maybe halfway through you have to switch to another role because that person gets hurt. There are so many circumstances in which understudies really earn every cent that they make.

So you started at just over six figures. Yes. By the time you were done-- at the top of your Hamilton career, what were you making?

About $600,000 a year. Oh, buddy. Yeah.

Take that, finance bros. Take that. And they actually earn it.

We work. We work hard. You work.

Wow. OK. So now, unions are great, right?

Yes. Unions-- let's all get one-- Let's all do it. --is my take. So two questions about the union, specifically.

Yes. Number one, when you're in the union-- so I assume this is now a union show as well-- is there transparency between everyone about what everyone's making? And then question two is are there non-union Broadway shows.

These are both great questions. So I'll answer two first. No.

If you are stepping on that stage, you are absolutely-- on a Broadway stage, anywhere between 54th and 40th Street in between Hell's Kitchen and Bryant Park, you are on a union stage, and it will be a big problem if you're not. So that is a great thing. And this is something to discuss.

Our union just opened up membership to everyone. There used to be a certain number of weeks that you had to have worked, but now they kind of opened the doors-- I forget what the exact program is called-- to get union members in. And part of it-- I think there's a lot of benefit to that.

I think trying to just equalize the socioeconomic advantages that some people have, because acting is not something that you just jump into. It very much depends on what school you went to, and who you know, and all these things-- access. But also, we just went through a pandemic, and I'm sure there are financial concerns about we need to just up membership, because we need dues.

And I don't even think of that as callous. I just think that that's the reality. So I'm not putting words in their mouths.

I just imagine that that's part of the calculation. But yeah, if you're stepping on a Broadway stage, you are part of the union. For sure.

First question. Transparency between members of a show. Transparency-- that is something that we are working on and trying to change.

The minimums are transparent, but-- the success of a show-- you want to do a Broadway show. You're a producer. You want to put on a Broadway show.

First of all, you're probably just 10% insane, because it is a gamble. You are literally rolling the dice. There is no way to guarantee that the amount of money that it takes to put the show up will be recouped.

There's just no way. So you're already jumping into something that is just uncertain on so many terms. So depending on where you start with the capital, the amount of investors you're able to get, when the theater opens, because you're also in competition-- there are so many shows trying to get into these theaters.

There are three main organizations that own these theaters. So you're very much vying for a spot. And you also are vying not just to get into the theaters, but you want a theater that suits your show.

Some shows need a more intimate space. Depending on that, you are able to pay your actors different salaries, different scales. So a show like Hamilton, which is now a massive success, is absolutely able to pay over half a million dollars to an Aaron Burr or a Hamilton.

That is not the case with all shows. And I think that one of the things that has happened is it has become kind of, whether intentional or not, a way to control actors in the industry, in terms of not knowing what other people are making next door, not knowing. Right?

Because if nobody has financial literacy, then nobody knows what to ask for, and everyone's concerned for their jobs if they make too many waves. And I think that that's one of the great things that is changing, and that's one thing that our Ain't Too Proud producers-- and Hamilton, Jeffrey Seller, who is just a truly incredible person-- have always been fighting for, is just more openness, more honesty, more clarity. On your show, do you guys know what the others make?

Yes, but not because-- yes, but because we made a point to. We made a point to be like, let's be clear. So there's another principal actor in the show who, this is one of their first Broadway shows.

This is their first Broadway show. This is their Broadway debut. And all throughout his negotiation-- so we have our reps.

We have our agents, our managers, our publicists, whatever. But all throughout his negotiation, we were on the phone. Hey-- Hell yeah.

Right? Just because it's like-- We call that solidarity. Absolutely.

I want you to know what I'm getting, why I'm getting it, and then you are able to better position yourself. And even if you don't get what you want, you can at least know what that means for you. It's all about-- clarity is choice.

Would you share what you're making on your current show? Absolutely. So right now they have me at-- depending on the box office, it slides.

So if the box office is over a certain percentage, then I get about $500 more per week. So right now, I'm at $5,000 a week. If the box office goes over-- I'm forgetting the percentage, but then I will be at $5,500.

That changes, that switches at the six-month mark. So then it will go up. So it's like $300,000 a year?

What is my math? Is my math terrible? A little-- About $240, $240-plus. $240.

Yeah. OK. So it could range between 2 and 3, basically, depending on the box office.

Mm-hmm. Yeah. OK.

Although, I imagine if you guys are going back up to eight shows a week, it's probably not doing too bad. It's really-- that's, again, the blessing here. I'm so thankful.

Because it didn't have to go this way, and especially because January is this drop-off month. The holidays are so special because everyone's in town, everyone wants to see a show. And then as soon as you hit January, you're just dealing with New York.

I'm seeing like six shows. I'm going to single-handedly keep the lights on on Broadway. Keep it on.

Keep it on. Come see me there in the audience. No, but it's the truth.

And we really-- it is so appreciated, because it is this thing of like, that's when you really know. And I think that Ain't Too Proud is-- again, there's no guarantees in this business, not at all, but Ain't Too Proud is set up in a really great way, where we do have a great marketing team. The show was selling super well-- so previous to the pandemic, they used to release the grosses of the shows weekly.

You could really-- and it was helpful for us, because we could track how our show was doing. Ain't Too Proud pre-pandemic was always $1 million or above a week. Per week?

Per week. Whoa. So that's amazing.

Now, again, just for context, Hamilton, $2. $2 million. But still, I mean, half of Hamilton-- I mean, Hamilton is like an institution at this point. Hamilton-- but understand that it took-- it wasn't always.

My parents saw it before it was on Broadway. Yeah. At the Public.

Yeah. Downtown. Yup.

Right? So it was a gamble. And it's hard to think about now, but it was a gamble.

All these things were a gamble. So I get it, and I think that the only way forward is clarity of communication, just so that we understand what this is, just for those of us in the industry to understand what it is that we're dealing with. Because I think that, for all the guts and glory of like, oh, yeah, you're making money, it's also like, yeah, but your show's got to stay open.

Do you get, like, a 401(k)? Mm-hmm. So-- Well, the insurance is through how many weeks you work, right?

And this is what's interesting though, because so-- Or, no, that's insurance. Sorry. Well, no, no, but so many of us are incorporated.

So I started with 401(k), but now that I'm incorporated, obviously, can't. So that becomes a whole other conversation. And again, fortunate to be in a position where incorporation makes sense for me in this industry.

But it is something that we have then had to-- every time that tax season comes around, it's always that question of, how much are you going to put away into this? And can you lower your tax bracket by doing-- and it's just like-- Oh, wait. So you're 1099 with these companies?

Oh, so you're actually not an employee of any of these shows. You're a contractor with them. Yes.

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I was going to say, so clearly you're probably-- I mean, you're headlining one of the bigger shows on Broadway.

I mean, this man is that show. Go see it. It's crazy.

He never leaves the stage. But you're still probably, even in the best case, about half what you were for Hamilton, which makes sense, right? Hamilton makes twice as much money, even on a bad day, probably.

It's just-- It's Hamilton. That Lin-Manuel, man, he can write them. He can, in fact.

But anyway, so that's a big delta for anyone. Even though making $200,000 to $300,000 a year is still way more than the vast majority of Americans, and you're in a two-income household, that is still, to go down 50%-- did you prepare for that? How do you live differently?

Walk us through the process of that. So this is where I get to really do my favorite part of this interview, which is to just plug my wife as a brilliant, brilliant, wonderful person. We love a wife guy.

Always. Oh, that's my best friend and the person that I'm aspiring to be in so many ways. So, again, wrapped up in so many things, I'll try to make this as concise as possible.

Yes, there was preparation in going that-- and knowing why I was making that choice. For me, so I started on Hamilton Broadway, and then I took Hamilton out on the road as Aaron Burr. And the road is amazing.

And I got to see so many amazing things and places and people. But my family is at home. I need to come back home.

Hamilton, at that point, didn't have an opening on the-- their Burr, Daniel Breaker, was going to stay. And at that point, too, there was so many Burrs, right, because there's five-- I think now six or maybe seven companies of Hamilton. So I'm not the only Burr.

When I started out as Burr, there was only three companies. Now there's like six or seven. So there's a whole list of people just trying to continue their lives, and continue their careers, and get back to New York, or stay on the road, or whatever they want to do.

So Hamilton-- so there's Broadway company, which is kind of like, think of it like the flagship store. That's, you come to 46th Street at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. That's where it started.

And then they open tours, national tours. So you have the one that started in, I believe it was San Fran. Ours started in Seattle.

And those are companies that tour around. Then at pre-pandemic, you also had some sit-downs. So you had Chicago.

There was a company that was just in Chicago. There's a West End Company, across the pond. There's now also an Australian company.

I believe there's about to be a German company. So there's all sorts of-- there's literally other stores of-- It's like franchises, basically. It is literally a franchise.

And the company is the cast. Yes. The cast, the crew, the orchestra, everyone.

Right. And again, I think one of the most amazing things about Hamilton, speaking-- Lin, I love you, thank you for everything-- is that the staying power is ridiculous. When they released the Disney+ movie, the question was, well, so if people can see it here, why would they come to the-- the brilliance that they have is that they're not asking anyone to replicate what happened in the Disney+.

So you see the Disney+ movie, that's an entirely different cast and an entirely different take on the show. Because you go to any one of these franchises, you're going to get six to seven different takes on the show, to its credit. Plus, I don't know if they've done studies on this, but I would imagine people seeing this at home actually increases the ticket sales.

Yes. I have to imagine. And I think they're very smart with how they push the show.

So it all comes down to that, this idea that I was part of this thing that was truly the biggest part of my life, but I wasn't at home. Ain't Too Proud opened up. Ain't Too Proud was a story I cared about.

It was a cast that I loved. Some of these people in this cast I started my Broadway career with. So Jawan Jackson, who plays Melvin Franklin, who's the bass, he's got the most ridiculous voice in the world-- He does.

He's out of control. He's also a knucklehead, and I hate his guts. But we literally made our Broadway debuts together in 2011.

So that's 10 years of friendship. And the story is so powerful. And even this connection-- the director of this, Des McAnuff-- he also directed Jersey Boys.

He's directed so many things. Des was my college best friend's godfather. So I knew this man way back in the day, and he's the reason I have a career.

So there were so many just personal reasons to come home, even with the pay cut. It was also the chance to-- you know, first replacement on a Broadway show. This is a Tony nominated role.

This is a massive role. This is a role that gets a lot of exposure. So that was absolutely part of the calculation.

But it was like, cool, there are reasons to supplement the financial loss. There were reasons, and obviously, the most important of those was getting home to my wife and my cat. A cat guy.

Cat guy. But here's what happens. My wife, who is really the reason that I learned about you and your amazing operation-- truly, she is someone I think who is able to deal with any traumas that come up in such an objective way.

My family, as a whole-- my mother is my other hero. She is absolutely the person that I look up to and want to be. I did not gain the financial literacy, and I put that on me.

Money was not something that we often talked about. And that's not her fault. It's just something that kind of got lost.

And I think that she was working so hard to provide for me that it just wasn't a conversation that I even thought to ask. I was just so, like, thankful, like, oh my god, the road is clear. She literally has paved a path for me.

I didn't have any student loans. I went to NYU. That's $200,000-- didn't have any student loans.

That's the kind of mother I had. So I was just grateful and also just didn't want to rock the boat, didn't think to ask. So I'm coming into this thing very much like, I don't know.

And when money gets mentioned, I seize up. That's not my wife. My wife is somebody who says, cool.

Let's plan. Let's figure this out. And so when I was on tour, she was very much about-- going back to your episode I think from like five years ago, when you talked about how to formulate a budget.

And starting there-- A deep cut. Deep cut. Listen, those deep cuts mean a lot.

And starting there, and really just being like, cool. So what is it that you're going to be bringing in-- breaking down the 50/30/20 and adjusting as we need. And that's how we did it initially.

Now here's where the pandemic comes in. Because when I was shifting from Hamilton to Ain't Too Proud was December to February of 2019 to 2020. Eek.

So we shift, and then all of a sudden, my show closes. And so we are like, what? And then Sarah gets into grad school in San Diego.

And so we're like, what? To budget as an actor is so hard as it is, because you literally-- I am literally in an unstable work environment at all times. And you're basically as high as anyone's ever going to get in Broadway, and it's still unstable.

It's still unstable. And that goes for all forms of performing arts. I think that's one of the things that is so ridiculous and why we need to have these conversations.

Because you could be starring in a TV series right now, and for whatever reason-- and especially on TV, where it's not just about-- I think theater, Broadway, is such a collaborative art form. TV/film is also a beautiful art form, but it also is-- I mean, it is big money. I think we're, what, somewhere around $17 billion on Broadway.

That's the output of our industry into New York, I believe. But that's nowhere compared to TV/film. I mean, that's an insane industry that spans the entire country.

To come see us, you have to come to a very specific city at a very specific time. Yeah, but it's way better. I'm not going to get into that. [LAUGHS] But I will say, it is the kind of thing that you really have to be aware of, you could be doing this contract, and the next day, it's gone, whether your show gets canceled or you get written off the TV series or whatever.

I mean, life happens, especially in the arts and entertainment sector. So saving becomes extremely important. Financial literacy becomes extremely important.

And for a person who was scared of broaching that, our financial conversations were incredibly difficult until extremely recently. It was the kind of thing where she was very much pushing for these conversations, and my triggers and traumas with not only not having the words for it, but also not wanting to say the wrong thing and look stupid, are preventing me from engaging in this conversation. And there's a lot of gender stuff in there, too, because typically it's the man who's going to be, you know, "the one who takes care of money," even though we know that's not-- That's not true at all.

No. So there's all these things that are just preventing me from having a real, genuine conversation and not something where I'm projecting my shame onto it or projecting my guilt onto it or projecting my fear onto. That took a long time, and my wife had to deal with a lot of BS to get to that place.

I can only imagine. Listen, you don't have to answer this because you're in the show, but I can only imagine-- listen, you do it eight times a week almost, every week for god knows how long. There's got to be some times when you're up there, and you're belting in your head off, but you're, like, going over your grocery list in your head.

There are absolutely times when I am not even going over my grocery list, but I will say, thinking about, like, holy crap. I have, like-- literally, there are times when, like 20 minutes into the show, 20 minutes into my three-hour, never leave the stage show, and I realize how many more things I have to do on that stage. And I'm just like, nope.

Oh my god. Well, it has that feeling of being a workout, where you're like, I've got to do like 60 more crunches before I can-- It's yeah literally a HIIT routine. It's a three-hour HIIT routine six out of the seven days.

But I say this-- this is a perfect example. So we just did the Kennedy Center Honors. It was an amazing thing, once in a lifetime opportunity.

I also have-- you're talking to someone who has social anxiety and, like I said, ADHD. And there's a big after party afterwards, and it's like every-- this year was honoring Bette Midler and Berry Gordy-- and that's why we were there-- and Lorne Michaels and Joni Mitchell and all these amazing people. So you have, when I say people that you just see on every poster and everything at the after party, just talking to you, coming up to you-- everyone's connecting.

Within five minutes, I was like, not for me, and I literally went to Crown & Crow, which is my favorite DC bar-- Crown & Crow. I used to live in DC. Oh, I love Crown & Crow.

It's my favorite. It's great. And I literally just got a Guinness and sat there and wrote, and that was my happiness for the night.

Hell yes. And I say that to say, like, that part's wonderful. That's not why I'm there.

I'm there because this is the way that I fully express myself. If it ever was not, time to get out. Totally.

Well, and I said the grocery list thing because-- so I've published two books. They have almost nothing to do with the kind of creative writing that I enjoy. And the process of publishing is just soul crushing, and that's for a successful book.

And the writing that I do that is fun and expressive, it will almost certainly never earn any money, but I think it's almost better that it doesn't earn any money. And I think the term hobby can have almost a negative connotation to it or a condescension to it, but I think for me it's more about diversifying your sense of identity and your sense of validation and decoupling it from money. Yes.

Because ultimately, whatever kind of performing art you're in or creative endeavor you're in, anything that you're in that is almost statistically unlikely to ever earn you a solid living, I'm sorry, but at a certain point-- it may not feel this way at 25, but trust me, at 40, the feeling of financial stability and the freedom-- because it's also time-- money is time-- the time to enjoy the parts of it that you love and the release of that pressure of constant financial struggle is going to be worth more to you than the feeling of being paid exclusively through whatever it is that you want to be doing. Yes. And to that end, that's why I say it has to be about your joy, because when you say that it is truly, like, statistically impossible, it is like maybe 1% of us who have these jobs in the union.

Truly. It is such a-- And that's people in the union. In the union.

So like it is staggering, the impossibility of the dice roll that you're about to do, which doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to do it, but like you're saying, decoupling that value, and understanding that your job is how you eat and how you keep a roof over your head. I think where I go with the hobby thing is like, fine to call it a hobby, but I will always-- if you are following that passion, even-- I have a buddy who truly has not acted in-- he hasn't done a major project in years, years, but he is still taking those acting classes. He's still reading scripts.

He's still doing all-- keeping those things fresh. And he has a job that allows-- that is an all-consuming job, but he's still doing that. I still call him an actor, because you are engaging in the thing.

And no, it doesn't pay your bills, but because it is so hard anyway, I'm very wary to take that away from someone. Because it is not earned by the credits on your resume. It's something else.

Oh, a thousand percent. Also, like every movie now, half the cast is just the child of someone famous. Are they more of an actor than someone who's been doing it their whole life in the quiet background with no accolades?

I would say no. Yes. So as kind of a looking-forward question before we get into our rapid fire-- so I'm 32, which qualifies me for AARP on YouTube.

I am old as shit. You guys are actually, as an audience, on the older side for YouTube. But-- [INAUDIBLE] Drag them.

You guys are getting up there. A little long in the tooth to be watching YouTube, if you ask me. Oh, good lord.

Kidding. No, but in all seriousness, I understand, just even looking demographically at where the audience is, where I am, even if I am able to keep-- and obviously, TFD, as you guys know, is much beyond me. We have our whole team.

We have other platforms. But as far as the YouTube part of it goes, which is still a big part of what we do, and as far as my show on the channel goes, I don't know how many more years I got in it that is even relevant to the audience but also that is necessarily kind of aligned with what I'm doing in life, et cetera. Not to make this dark, but as an actor, I mean, few more youth-obsessed businesses out there.

When you look at your career over the next 10 to 20 years, and specifically as it pertains to things like planning for retirement, building that income in a sustainable way, are you afraid? Do have a plan? Do you feel-- tell me about it, because I think about this all the time.

So there's a phrase going around in our industry, not just the stage sector, but the film/TV sector as well, of multi-hyphenates. And I think that's everywhere. I think multi-hyphenate is a phrase that's everywhere.

I'm not just saying it's just for us. But the idea that you are-- and this is what I mean by that passion, that you are going to find a way to do this no matter what and that you enjoy several aspects of this. And there's nothing wrong with just wanting to act.

This is a youth-obsessed culture, 100%. That is something that I have-- the idea that, especially for women, for female-presenting people, that you hit a certain age, and all of a sudden there's like a no-person's land, where you're not hireable is ridiculous. Halle Berry, she's coming out with Bruised, which is a movie that she literally was like-- I think it was meant for a completely different main character, and she was like, cool, no.

I want this for a middle-aged Black woman, and we're going to rewrite it to that. The fact that she has to do that as opposed to the stories being there is a whole thing that we can-- that's a whole other book. But am I afraid of it?

No, because for me, there's financial stability, and there's the ability to express myself fully. I am someone who-- I am very fortunate that I've been able to marry the two for a long time. I do not ever take that for granted that what I love to do is also how I make my living.

That is an amazing thing. But I also have other interests. I have other things.

Again, I got through the pandemic because of Ain't Too Proud, because of Hamilton, and because of teaching. I was teaching at two different schools. There are other ways to engage in this thing beyond just me being front and center of a show, other lucrative ways.

So I think that it's less about, again, this kind of imposing point of, like, oh, there's a place where I won't be able to act anymore, and more about just, like-- and again, talk to me in 10 years, and this might be completely different. But right now, as a 34-year-old man, I look at this and say, cool. I still get joy from other things.

There are other things that fulfill me, that pay me. My writing is, again, knock on wood, thankfully doing some pretty damn good damage. Teaching fulfilled me in a way-- professorship fulfilled-- I loved it.

I love those kids. I love being able to see the light go off in their head. So just understanding that you contain multitudes.

You are not contained by the thing that you think you are. And adaptability. I will say, it was also very helpful, as someone who was afraid of financial literacy, to get a financial advisor and have them do your profile and see where they think you'll be.

And to hear that, it really took a load off my chest. Because, again, this is a person who's setting up my life insurance, setting up all these things, and just based on what I've done so far has very little concern for my financial welfare, and being like, oh, OK, well, you're pretty good at your job. And if you're not worried about that, then that takes the worry off of me, and now I'm able to free my mind and be like, cool.

It doesn't have to just be starring on Broadway shows. We can do other things. Right.

And that previous-- what you have on your resume, just that in of itself is sort of an investment in your long-term future. Also, I mean, we've all seen those charts, right? Like, as a man, you're going to be like 40, 50, 60, and your leading ladies-- 20, 22, 21.

Yeah. It's a whole-- so this is a big thing that I am-- and again, I was raised by my mother. Very much-- one of my goals is to help combat that.

I just don't like that. And it's also just not real. And it's also, in the idea that in some executive head it's not commercially viable is out of control because we just want-- if there's one thing the pandemic proved, it's that we just want stories.

Yes. We just want good stories. It doesn't have to be anything.

Everyone is looking for "content" right now, and I that with air quotes because they're really just looking for good, engaging story. And I think that that happens at any age, with any person. And the entire structure that says that they have to be this age and look this way and of this gender is out of control and silly.

And so I'm trying to challenge that in as many ways as I can. Next time, when you're going to your next show, you're just going to be like, I am playing opposite Judi Dench as my love interest or I'm not taking it. Hey.

Hey. In a heartbeat, I would be honored to share that stage with Judi Dench. Man, I'm sure we all went on our Sondheim binges the other day, and her version of "Send in the Clowns" I think is the best.

Pretty beautiful. It's pretty beautiful. Aw, [INAUDIBLE] watch that.

The best. OK. So I'm pulling up the-- [VOCALIZING BEEPS] It's the rapid fire questions.

Yeah. So the time has come, Nik. Let's talk.

So these are our rapid fire questions. Very excited. Feel free to pass on any of them.

Rapid fire just means whatever comes to your head, quick and dirty. And again, pass if you want. What is the biggest financial secret of your industry?

That you should always ask. So many people think they can't ask. Always ask.

When you're negotiating your contracts, yes, there's being thankful. There's being grateful that you have the job. Always ask.

Always have your reps ask. What do you invest in versus what are you cheap about? Oh.

I'm so cheap about things that I shouldn't be cheap about. Clothes. I'm so cheap about clothes.

I mean, you're a man. I know. But I also am in an industry that truly asks me to look my best.

But if you're watching this, go Google Ain't Too Proud reopening. Look at my cast members. Look how well they were dressed.

We're talking, like, beautiful robes and hats [BLEEP] I'm sorry if I can't-- can I swear? Yeah, of course. [BLEEP] [INAUDIBLE] I showed up in my Batman graphic tee, a leather jacket, cargo pants, and boots to my reopening, to my Broadway reopening. And my wife is trying her damnedest to be like, hey, please, just wear-- you can wear nice things.

But it scares me. That would not fly in my house. Oof.

Nope. Nope. My husband is putting on a suit.

Oh, and it doesn't fly in our house, either, but she's being very kind about it. So I don't invest in clothes. I do invest in theme parks. [LAUGHS] Oh my god.

It took me a second for that to-- I was like, what's a theme park? Whoa. You mean like Six Flags?

I mean, like, we go to Walt Disney World or Universal every year. What has been your best investment, single best investment? Financial or otherwise?

Otherwise. It could be any-- some people say their wives. Well, I was going to say my wife-- Aww.

Definitely going to say my wife. Mental health. My mental health.

Yeah. He was saying before, he's got to go to therapy before his show. Oh, yeah.

We stan a therapy-going king. That is what we're doing. What has been your biggest money mistake and why?

Not communicating about financial decisions, especially when you're married, especially when you have a partner. Again, I get scared that I'm not doing the right thing. And understanding that there is no right and wrong.

There's just decisions. There's just choices. And being clear about those choices will save you so much heartache.

So just the times when I just-- I froze up and, again, my anxiety was just like, uh, just do it, and don't worry about it, and don't tell her, as opposed to, hey, slow down. Breathe. You actually can figure-- you're not alone.

You can figure this out together. You can go back and watch the deep cuts of The Financial Diet and just figure it out. And that absolutely is the biggest mistake.

I think I'm a fan of your wife after this interview. She sounds great. She is a fan of yours.

I'll tell you, she-- Maybe one day we'll meet. Oh. Let me tell you, that will make her smile.

Oh my god. Is a double brunch date brewing? Please.

What is happening? OK. Brunch?

OK. What is your biggest current money insecurity? It's got to be the Omicron variant shutting down Broadway again, because that's my biggest money insecurity for you.

I mean, yeah, but you know-- I'm sorry. [LAUGHS] No, no, no, be real. No, the "Omarion" variant is a huge thing. [LAUGHS] But you know what it is? It's definitely-- I wouldn't even say the Broadway shutdown.

I would say, you talk about the insecurity of my career and what it means to be getting older in this industry-- just the idea that the next thing won't happen before this thing ends. I've been very fortunate, where, truly, even in the pandemic, there has never been a pause in employment. That's big.

And truly-- and I don't give myself-- again, self-love is thing. Oh my god. This is the safe space to boost yourself up.

And to understand that, yeah, I've made my living in this industry 10 years straight. I have never, ever been out of work. And even if I was out of work, I always knew the next thing coming.

And that was true, again, through the pandemic. But that still is the biggest concern, is that-- again, Broadway shows, if they last a year, you're so lucky. I'm in a show that has lasted already more than a year.

But wanting to continue to climb one thing and continue to do the things-- whether it's booking another Broadway show or one of the things I'm developing on the writing side taking off, getting greenlit, all these things, that's the big concern, is like, god, what happens if? But also, I have to trust that, again, your track record's not that bad. Even if it doesn't happen, you'll be OK.

And I'm imagining you're in one of those roles where you're not allowed to have facial hair. I'm not. And you have to have a very specific grooming regimen.

So maybe if you have a pause, the silver lining will be-- I can get that beard back. Ah. You could do whatever you want.

I miss that beard. Yeah. And you can eat as much cereal as you want.

Yay. What has been the financial habit that's helped you the most? Planning.

Hell yeah. When did you first feel successful, and what does that word mean to you? It would be so funny if you were like, when I was starring as Aaron Burr in Hamilton and not a moment before.

Everything else before that was failure. No, you know-- this is a story-- it actually does have to do with Aaron Burr, but it was a story-- I'll try to make this concise, because I know it's rapid fire. But this is, again, story.

So when I was a kid, one of the first plays I saw on Broadway was Julius Caesar, and it was starring Denzel Washington as Brutus. And there's an actor named Kelly AuCoin, who was there. "Oh-kwah?" "Oh-kwah?" "Oh-kwah?" I'm just hearing it, and I'm like, is she French? Is it "Oh-kwah?" I don't know if Kelly's French.

And it's him. He's on, if you know the show, Billions. I do.

Plays "Dollar" Bill. Love that show. He's a brilliant actor.

But he was starring as Octavius Caesar. And I was a huge Shakespeare nerd, and I had all these questions, so I waited outside the stage door. And again, Denzel came out of the stage door, and everyone swarmed him and whatever, and I was never going to get my questions answered by him, not in a million years.

But Kelly came out the stage door, and, again, Octavius Caesar's a lead part, but not the biggest part in that show. But it was a two-show day, matinee. That means you have a show in two hours after you finish your first show.

Ugh. He was clearly going to get some dinner, and I had some asinine question about his character. And that man stopped to talk to me for 30 minutes, a little 13-year-old. 13.

And when I got Aaron Burr, I made a deal with myself that I would never not stage door. I would always do the stage door. And I tweeted at him, and I was like, I just want you to know that I do it because of you.

And he tweeted back at me, and then we became, like, internet friends. And then that grew and grew. That was the moment.

When I was able to go out and do that same service for somebody else, that's when I was like, oh, wow. Yeah. This is a big thing.

So yeah, that was the moment. What a beautiful answer. That's so sweet.

Aww. Well, as I knew it would be, this has been a pleasure. Although, I have to say, I was surprised by your level of candor about finances.

I was not expecting, it in a good way. Yeah. I will say, again, I'm not breaching a contract, which I'm not, to talk about this kind of stuff, I think it's super important.

I think for anybody trying to be an actor, be in this business, please know what's at stake. I will say, the amount of money that I'm making now, pretty average pay for a Broadway principal. A lot of Broadway principals making less than that.

So this is still on the higher end of things, as crazy as that sounds. And then when you get into celebrities, it's a whole different thing. They're making a completely different scale.

But we've got to know this, because we've got to be able to plan. So I'm always about candor when it comes to this stuff. Also, because I don't know a whole lot, so I always want to learn.

And the only way to learn is to ask questions and be real. I love that. New York City needs you to go see these shows.

It's true. Stop being selfish and not seeing them. I don't care if you don't have the money.

Steal it. Steal it. Steal money.

Please do. Steal the money. But don't steal the seats.

Don't steal the tickets. Steal the money from someone else. Buy the tickets, and then go to it. [LAUGHS] No, but his show is amazing.

And where can people find you online? I'm @NikkyWalks, N-I-K-K-Y-W-A-L-K-S, on Twitter and Instagram. And from there, you can find me, my show, Ain't Too Proud, my movie podcast, Little Justice.

All the things that I'm doing and working on are all through that. And YouTube search his version of "Gethsemane" from JCC? Oh, god.

Oh, dear god. JCS? JCC.

JCCS? Either way. I love it.


What is wrong with me today? Perfect. It's late.

Anyway, thank you so much for joining. Of course. And thank you guys for tuning in.

And we will see you next week on a brand new episode of The Financial Confessions. Goodbye. [MUSIC PLAYING]