Tombstone might be the only town with the same actor to citizen ratio as Hollywood.
Nearly half of the population is employed full time in the arts industry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To put that in perspective, 33 percent of the population in Los Angeles is employed in the arts and entertainment industry.
Tombstone is home to at least four re-enactment companies: Helldorado Town Gunfights, O.K. Corral, Old West Tombstone Gunfighters and Tombstone Vigilante’s. Servers at watering holes like Big Nose Kate’s and Crystal Palace dress in costume. The Chamber of Commerce has an entire page devoted to filming in Tombstone, and the famous film “Tombstone” speaks for itself.
Tombstone is a place where the past and the present cross paths on Allen Street. It’s not unusual to see people dressed in costume and playing characters of the past.
But the reality of acting in Tombstone is not as glamorous as it is in Hollywood.
Aaron Gain, 22, plays Doc Holliday in the O.K. Corral’s show.
“Tombstone, it’s kind of bittersweet,” Gain said. “I’m Mickey Mouse at Disneyland; people will be totally enamored by the fact that you’re Doc Holliday.”
Before he played Holliday, Gain spent four and a half years as a cowboy. He has also played a brother of Wyatt Earp since moving to Tombstone from Dallas with his family five years ago.
Gain said he isn’t looking for fame on the dusty streets of the town.
“I’ve only met four famous people here, and they’re not even that famous,” Gain said. “It honestly is something that I enjoy doing because I enjoy making people happy.”
People measure their success as an actor differently.
“Nobody here is trying to become a big Hollywood actor,” Gain said.
David Hight has worked at the O.K. Corral for seven years and now plays Ike Clanton. He also acted at a dinner theater in Bisbee.
He calls his gig at the O.K. Corral his survival job, to pay the bills.
“I’m never without work here,” Hight said. “If I quit the O.K. Corral I’d have a job the next day. It’s good competition.”
Hight also regularly acts in commercials and feature films. He said he was in “Hangover 3,” although the credit is not listed on his Internet Movie Database profile.
Gain said that the average salary of an actor in Tombstone is under the poverty line.
“We work seven days a week, three shows a day, six hours a day, and we fall between $12,000 and $16,000 (annually) depending on how much you work,” he said.
Comparatively speaking, Census data shows the median income in Tombstone is $14,830. That falls very low on the Census Bureau salary rankings.
Talent agencies and managers are hard to come by in Tombstone, but Hight said they aren’t necessary.
“I had an agent and manager, they sometimes call me, but I’ve been doing this for so long that usually the directors call me and friends ask me if I want to audition,” he said.
Most companies pay actors hourly, while others are strictly on a volunteer basis. Some choose to work other jobs to supplement their income.
Gain used to work the graveyard shift at a Circle K, but decided that it was too demanding and he made enough to get by working solely as an actor.
“I love doing it,” Gain said. “I love acting and I love the people I work with. It’s really a fun, fun job.”
Gain wants to eventually pursue a career as a history teacher.
“I do this only out of the pure amusement of others and history. It’s not a career. I wish it was, but it’s definitely not,” he said.