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Job Smackdown: Malaysian Theatre Actor Versus Fast Food Employee

There’s a joke that the time an actor spends doing theatre in Malaysia is better spent working in a fast food outlet. We set out to see if that was true by speaking to a number of theatre practitioners, applying for a job at a few fast food outlets, and comparing the information we got.

BTW, we are specifically referring to Malaysian theatre actors, which don’t include film actors. Also, the term “actor” refers to both men and women, so don’t say we’re sexist!




Salary is the number one consideration for most Malaysians when it comes to jobs, so lets get this straight: be it passion or interest, everyone needs to cari makan at some point.

Theatre Actor

Figuring out an actor’s salary is a little challenging since there isn’t a standard payment scheme for actors. After talking to a few actors, we managed to calculate an average figure of RM3.80/hour.

Here’s how we did it:

There are 3 common methods of payment for theatre actors: Fixed payment, Pure profit sharing, and Minimum fixed pay plus profit sharing. Profit sharing is based off x percent (usually 4-7%) of y percent of profit (usually 60%). This sounds complicated but don’t worry, it adds up to very little anyway. There is a moving trend towards fixed payments or basic minimum + profit sharing, but there is no industry standard at the moment.

If numbers give you headaches, feel free to skip the next 2 paragraphs where we explain how we arrived at this.

Theatre rehearsals are typically 4 hours a day, 3 days a week for 12 weeks with 7 days of show, totaling 172 hours. This does not include work done outside of rehearsals such as line memorization.

The average remuneration for a regular theatre production (not including big-budget musicals) is RM 650, therefore the hourly rate can be backcalculated (650/172) to RM3.78/hour (Rounded to RM 3.80).

This is why most theatre actors also hold day jobs, from advertising executives to industrial chemical salesmen.

It’s not the industry’s fault, too. Ticket sales barely, if even, cover production costs, and rely heavily on corporate and government sponsorship to survive. Sadly, that support is currently lacking, based on recent interviews.


Fast Food Employee

The fast food industry is a little more straightforward, with wages being fixed at RM4.50/hour for regular shifts and RM5.50/hour for graveyard shifts plus additional performance-based allowances

However we should point out that while most actors don’t depend on their theatre salaries to survive, this is a fast food worker’s primary source of income.



By the power of math, Fast Food Employee wins.




Most companies provide additional benefits on top of salary for their employees, the most common ones being insurance coverage, medical coverage, and EPF contribution. Considering that actors can fall off the stage (We’re not kidding. Here’s the proof) and fast food employees are around very hot things, you would think that these people would at least be medically covered, right? Well, you’re half right.

Theatre Actor

Actor benefits vary by production, but we can assure you they aren’t all that great. Actors generally have access to a tea table with instant coffee and biscuits during breaks. If lucky, they won’t have to stock it themselves.

We’ve only ever come across one production company that offers on-site insurance coverage for actors, and for the rest of them, well, let’s just say a box of plasters and hand disinfectant cures everything.

EPF contributions are not an issue, as there aren’t any.


Fast Food Employee

We were honestly surprised by the benefits given to employees in the fast food industry.  With free meals, life, hospital, and accident coverage, 13% EPF contribution, and medical benefits, it’s looking better than writing for an up-and-coming satire website.


Another easy win for the Fast Food Employee


Occupational Hazards


Okay, so this is a category where the winner’s the loser. To make it less confusing, we’re labeling the work environment with less hazards the Winner and the one with more hazards the Loser. Faham? Baiklah, mari kita teruskan!


Admittedly, incidences of actors falling off the stage is pretty rare. More common hazards an actor would face are common scrapes, cuts, bruises and sprains – all curable with plaster and hand sanitzer! An actor might also be prone to hearing and self-esteem loss from being yelled at by angry directors for messing up dialogue. Actors are also at risk of burns from scathing reviews.


Fast Food Employee

More common hazards a fast food employee would face are common scrapes, cuts, bruises and sprains – all curable with a trip to a panel doctor thanks to medical coverage! A fast food employee might also be prone to hearing and self-esteem loss from being yelled at by angry customers for messing up orders. Fast food employees are also at risk of burns from hot oil splashes.



As long as they don’t bring Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to Malaysia, the theatre actor wins this one. You morbid people can watch the recording of the accident here.


Job Satisfaction


There is a school of thought that claims job satisfaction is (gasp!) more important than salary. We asked some actors and fast food employees how satisfied they were with their jobs.

Send us your 'mengada' poses with murals and WIN cool stuff!

Theatre Actor

It’s the satisfaction of creative and artistic expression that keeps an actor coming back to the stage despite the crappy pay and benefits.


Fast Food Employee

Without muc- oh you know what, theatre actors win this category. Let’s move on.


Career Prospects


You can’t be working the same position forever. At some point, someone should recognize your talents enough to move you up the industry ladder.

 Theatre Actor

The sky’s the limit for the theatre actor. Actors typically transition to directing, writing, stage management, design, or technical controls for lights and sound without issues. This is due to the open, organic structure of Malaysian theatre; and because no one else wants to do it.

Oh, and you might even get into film at some point.


Fast Food Employee

Fast food employees have a really high chance of being promoted to outlet manager if they are either a) really good at their job; or b) stay around long enough.

Or at the very least, they stand a chance to be nominated Employee of the Month (Performance-based allowances. Yay!)



Because of the possibilities available to the theatre actor and the perks given to fast food employees, we’re gonna say they both win.


Job Security


As much as we complain about going to work, we seek refuge in the understanding that we won’t find ourselves fired the next day. In fact, there are laws specifically written to prevent this from happening.

Theatre Actor

Theatre actors however aren’t usually tied to a single production house. They work on a per-production basis and are paid by production. An actor can do 3-5 productions a year on average depending on the rehearsal and performance period, and if he or she is actually able to pass the auditions.


Fast Food Employee

As indicated in the job satisfaction category, chances are much higher that the employee leaves the company rather than the other way around.



Fast food employees SECURE (because job security, geddit?) the win.


Social Acceptance


We Malaysians love our doctors, lawyers, and corporate high flyers. Wondering how actors and burger flippers are viewed, we used the scenario of “What would happen if you took the actor/fast food employee that you’re seriously dating home to meet your parents for dinner?

Theatre Actor

Sure, you’d avoid any potentially awkward silences because people are generally curious about acting in general, and mom and dad are probably thinking “Wah, Hollywood film actor.” But the reality will eventually come to light and they’ll be thinking “Haiyo. Irresponsible bum living off family money.”


Fast Food Employee

To be honest, chances are much higher that your parents will run into him/her DURING dinner. But hey, at least it’s a REAL job, right?



Judging from the looks of disappointment on your parents’ faces, both lose in this category.


Mating Potential


That’s a very scientific way of saying “Which job easier to get girlfriend?”

Theatre Actor

Theatre actors are a socially incestuous bunch. Because the actors spend so much time in productions, it’s natural to start dating within the performing arts circle. Since the theatre community is so small, it’ll only be a matter of time before everyone ends up dating someone’s ex. This raises many awkward situations from “My ex is dating your ex” to “My girlfriend is playing my mother in this production.”

On the bright side, being a theater actor means there are lots of star-struck teens who totally check you out on stage and proceed to add you on Facebook. Good luck finding the time to meet them though.


Fast Food Employee

A fast food employee has the advantage of regular work hours and off days in order to maintain a well-balanced social life. He or she would also be able to use epic pickup lines such as “Hey baby, when you look at the menu I know the only thing you see is Me-n-U”.



This was a really hard decision to make, but we will give it to the theatre actor because having your current squeeze act as one of your family members sounds pretty hot.


The Results

It’s a tie! And no, we didn’t plan this.

So…… does this mean that both jobs are equally as bad? Of course not!

We’ve come to realize that each job fulfills a different requirement, be it a need for artistic creation and expression or simply because it’s the only kind of work available. In our quest for higher salaries and promotions, we tend to forget the other aspects of a job that makes it worthwhile doing, and allow that to affect how we view people with these jobs.

With that in mind, we hope you won’t forget to smile at the cashier the next time you’re queuing up for that fried chicken, and lend some support to our local arts scene.











  1. Pingback: Why is the Malaysian Consumer Squad recruiting aunty spies?! | CILISOS - Current Issues Tambah Pedas!

  2. Patrick

    11/06/2014 at 1:24 pm

    Do not under any circumstances ask him to repeat that joke.

    • UiHua

      11/06/2014 at 4:03 pm

      The world deserves to know that joke!

  3. SK Phang

    10/06/2014 at 8:03 pm

    I’m curious. What’s the Tramp joke?

    • UiHua

      11/06/2014 at 1:29 pm

      I’m glad you asked. It’s much better told in person so if you’re ever around Paradigm Mall, let me know. We’ll even treat you to a coffee while I tell it to you. Trust me, it’ll be worth it 🙂

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