The Most Important Thing in Theatre You’re Not Talking About

There’s a massive disconnect between theatre intelligentsia– bloggers like me– and what’s actually happening on the ground.

Theatre writers have been doing an excellent job drawing attention to issues of inclusion and diversity, issues of copyright and contract law and copyright/contract violation, issues of audience demographics, issues of access to arts education, issues of season selection, issues of censorship, especially in schools. Those are crucial, vital, important issues about which we need to continue to write. I have no plans to stop writing about any of those, nor do I expect (or want) anyone else to stop.

But we’re all avoiding the elephant in the room, probably because it’s simple, and boring, and all too painfully obvious.

THEATRES ARE CLOSING.

Nonprofit theatres all over the country are in trouble. While larger theatres are doing better than they were during the recession, a jaw-dropping amount of small, indie theatres and even midsize theatres are in trouble. Small theatres like mine actually did pretty well during the recession. People who wanted to get their theatre on in an economic fashion were packing our houses. But the past few seasons have been rough all over for us.

Sure, when a theatre closes, we can pretend it was mismanagement once or twice, but when it’s over and over and over and over? We have a problem. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with key people in several companies across the country who have all told me that their small theatres are in immediate danger of going under. While not LORTs, these theatres are still important contributers to the national theatre landscape. Small companies create the playwrights, directors, actors, designers, tech, and adminstrators who populate large companies. Their contributions are important. They are the research and development wing of American theatre. And they are in trouble.

It was always difficult to be a theatre company, especially a small one. Most grants for “small companies” require a minimum of $100K annual budget, for example. But now there are fewer grants for the arts, both foundation and corporate, and those that exist are often giving lower amounts. Additionally, almost all grants support specific projects, or specific initiatives (like “audience engagement”), not a company’s general operating costs. The amount of work involved in applying for grants is enormous. Not every small theatre has the resources to meet those enormous demands routinely– grants all ask for different types of documentation and writing, all of which require many hours of work. After devoting many hours of work PER GRANT, most grant applications are declined. Musician Meeranai Shim calculates that the odds of winning a grant are the same as winning at roulette. The conventional wisdom in smaller theatres is that the development person is the first person a company puts on payroll. Everything else, including the artistic director, is negotiable.

While larger companies have the option of laying off staff (and overworking the few who remain), in most small and midsize companies, upper level admin are the last to get paid and the first to take a pay cut when times are tough. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about all those facebook memes that say: “I’m an artist. I don’t work for free.” No, you don’t, because many of us in small theatre admin stopped paying ourselves so we can pay you. I’ve heard it over and over in the past couple of seasons– “I’ve stopped taking a salary.” “I’m taking a 30% pay cut.” “We gave ourselves a 50% pay cut.” “We reduced our admin to just two people, and we both took a 25% pay cut.”

What I’m hearing from small companies all over is that individual donations are down, and the people who give are giving lower amounts. I’m hearing that subscriptions and ticket sales are down. I have to say “what I’m hearing” because the evidence is all anecdotal. Any data you reach for to “prove” me wrong (or right, for that matter) will automatically be inaccurate because small and indie companies are routinely shut out of studies. There are no comprehensive studies of small and/or indie theatre, and no studies of theatre in general that include small or indie companies in any meaningful way. We just have no data about this. So the anecdotal evidence I’m hearing over and over will have to do. Sure, there are small, indie companies who are doing great. And there are small, indie companies who *appear* to be doing great. But the stories I’m hearing– even before I started looking for them– paint a different picture. I have to believe what I hear and see.

Even if you sell out, you can’t make budget with ticket sales in most cases, certainly not if you’re paying all your show personnel a competitive stipend. You can only charge so much for a theatre ticket before people start expecting lavish production values. Commercial theatre, that can’t get grants or donations, charges a scrotillion dollars a ticket and sells tons of merch in order to make a profit. This is why commercial theatre tends to be either fluffy, splashy musicals with impressive tech or small cast plays driven by Hollywood stars. Spectacle sells. People will pay $250 a seat to gawk at Hugh Jackman’s biceps or Daniel Radcliffe’s no-no square. People willl pay $250 a seat to see a gigantic Disney spectacle with amazing tech and 50 people in sparkly costumes dancing in unison onstage. And I’m not criticizing that. I like sparkly things and biceps as much as the next human. But it’s just different than what we do in the world of small theatre. We can’t charge enough for tickets to meet our expenses if we’re going to pay people, rent, and other production costs. People won’t pay $250– or even $50– for small, indie theatre. Not to mention that it’s impossible to predict which shows will sell out and which will tank, so ticket income is just unpredictable. I’ve seen beautiful shows with glowing reviews that the theatre couldn’t sell.

Everyone who doesn’t run a theatre thinks they have the answer. “I did a fringe play that sold out, and it had cats in it, so I know plays about cats sell.” I was literally told this once, and many things like it. The real answer is: we don’t know what will sell. It’s easy to say “sex sells,” but that’s not always the case. Shows with glowing reviews don’t always sell. Shows with naked people don’t always sell. Shakespeare doesn’t always sell. New, exciting plays with diverse casts don’t always sell. New, exciting plays by women with gender-balanced casts don’t always sell. New plays in general are an extremely tough sell to audiences. And while I truly believe moving in more diverse and gender-balanced directions is crucial for the health of the theatre community in the long term and overall, and are goals we should work towards for their own sakes, we need to look at the acute financial problems we’re having as such– small, diverse theatres are in as much trouble as anyone else. We need to keep pushing for diversity WHILE looking at theatre’s financial problems from more comprehensive angles.

You never know what’s going to hit and what’s going to fail to find its audience. Some of the best plays I’ve ever seen were at small and midsize theatres who lost money because the show never found its audience. My guess is that the work was too quirky or unusual or complex to wrap up in a simple description, buzz was low, and audiences stayed away. But I don’t know, and neither do you. No one can accurately predict what will sell and what won’t. And almost no one in the nonprofit world, regardless of strength of sales, is making budget on ticket sales alone unless they’re not paying rent or personnel.

While income lowers, expenses continue to rise.

AEA contracts are non-negotiable for individual companies, and demand higher and higher salaries as a company ages. I’ve spoken with several companies who are going nonunion next season because they can no longer afford AEA salaries, and I know a bunch who have stayed nonunion for years because they can’t afford the contract they’d have to use with their seat count or budget, or because of that contract’s quotas. Rents in many markets continue to rise. Insurance continues to rise. The cost of almost everything continues to rise– lumber, hardware, costumes, props, paint, equipment.

So. Income is down. Expenses are up. And we’re not discussing that in any real way. We’re always complaining about the lack of support for theatre, we talk about how to create “public value,” we invite representatives from granting orgs to our meetings and conventions to try to shake out of them what, exactly, they want from us, and how we can be one of the few lucky recipients of the money they have to give, and make it to the next season. The theatre next door closes and we comfort ourselves by claiming “mismanagement,” either financial or programming, while we know– everyone running a theatre knows– one bad season and that could be us. We’re not having the real, hard discussions we need to be having as a community about this.

We all need to be realistic about the fact that there just is not enough money to go around. Small and midsize theatres in particular are struggling, and are dramatically under-supported in every single way. Everyone talks about how they should be paid more, how there should be more money for their production budget, how paying more for AEA actors is justified. Well, there is no more. Despite the fact that all those are true– we SHOULD be paying more for all our personnel, not just the AEA actors, and we SHOULD be able to give our designers more workable budgets, and we SHOULD be able to pay our admin people even half what they’d get in the professional world, or, in some cases, at ALL. But THERE IS NO MORE MONEY. There is no more money. There is. No. More. Money.

So now what?

We need to support our small and midsize theatres– support them ourselves and create support for them– if we want small and midsize theatres to survive. I’m not even saying “flourish.” Just survive. We’ll talk about “flourish” later.

That small theatre that gave you your first break. That midsize theatre that gave you your first big design gig. The new theatre dedicated to diverse work. These theatres are in jeopardy if we do not put some serious work into supporting them.

I’ve been teased for the amount of support I give other companies on social media. I’ve been called a “cheerleader.” Hell yes, I’m a cheerleader for theatre! For one thing, there’s no competition in theatre. I often say: a person who sees a show at the theatre down the street is MORE likely to see one at mine, not less. For another, this is no time to be precious about our work. Theatres are closing. We need to get our asses in gear.

The first few steps are easy:

Go see a show. Pay for your ticket. If you ask for a comp, be cognizant of what you’re asking for, and offer to come on an off night while making it clear that you’re fine with being told no. Talk about that show on social media. Check in at the theatre. Tell your friends. BRING your friends.

Find a small or midsize theatre near you. I don’t care which one. Go to their website. Make a donation. I don’t care how small. Do it today.

Yes, we all already contribute to the theatre community through our underpaid work as artists (and I include tech and bloggers and everyone in that). But if you want the theatres you love to be there next season, now is the time to do a little bit more. Because it’s not “mismanagement.” It’s the reality of making small nonprofit theatre in this economy.

If your theatre is doing well: Congratulations. Not sarcastic. Totally genuine. Now look to your left and look to your right. Help those guys, because chances are they are not doing as well as you are. Look to your left and look to your right. Those are the people you want to be there for you when YOU reach out for help.

The next step is harder: Rethinking how theatre is made, what a “theatre” is, and how we can reinvent ourselves to face a changing economy. There are more nonprofit theatres than there is money to support them. Period. What do we do about that? Can we do anything about that? Should we? These are the hard questions. These are discussions we need to be having.

Until then: Send your favorite theatre company a few bucks today. Or one you hate; I don’t care. Any small, indie theatre would see your $25 as the best news they’ve had all day. Buy a ticket, see a show, and talk about it on social media. Let’s all pull on the rope together and see how many small companies we can pull out of the ditch. And then let’s sit down together and talk. Maybe together we can solve these problems. Let’s stop putting on our Brave Faces and tell the truth to each other, instead of whispering it in hallways or in “EAT THIS EMAIL” communications. Theatre, that beautiful bitch goddess, is hurting. And we need to figure out what to do about it.

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27 thoughts on “The Most Important Thing in Theatre You’re Not Talking About

  1. I am trying to open up this possibility in my area. Like most rural areas, my region tends to shy away from the arts as not sustainable. Of course, I have always felt that this was the agricultural background talking, but then I watched as clothing stores, print shops, and other businesses closed down because the people simply do not frequent them. They can be offered something in their own community and still travel 50-100 miles because they do not realize that their town needs its businesses…or they simply have a routine that they hate to break.

    I am trying to break this cycle. Yes, I am a big fan of the arts. After all, I am a writer. My craft tends to rely on theater being there to adapt my works at some point. And I also write scripts (I even have one I wrote for someone else on my blog). Not that I am prolific at it, but I do write them. I was drawn into it much the way I was drawn into writing fiction…and lyrics. I found the composition of a few plays and condensed movie scripts intriguing and began dissecting them, then constructing my own scripts (not from the same content) using the format.

    I want to open an entertainment company that has every aspect of entertainment involved. film. television. radio. publishing. and stage. I am only hoping to be able to realize my dreams.

  2. scriberess says:

    Thank you for providing a wonderful, thought-provoking update on the state of the theatre today. As a playwright, obviously it’s demoralizing news but it is, what it is, what is. Thing is…as a playwright, it takes a year or more to write the first draft of a play, after which there’s many re-writes before the actual act of submitting it…somewhere. So I figure, maybe erroneously, that my time is worth something – anything! Judging by your commentary, remuneration is getting more and more difficult as is finding a theatre to produce our plays. Still, we keep at it in he hope that somebody, somewhere, will recognize that the content is worth sharing with theatre-goers. What choice to we have?

    • Playwrights need to be paid. Everyone needs to be paid. The problem is that there’s not enough money to support everyone who wants to do theatre– or who currently IS doing theatre. Like I said, admin goes without pay, or with severely docked pay, to pay for things like performance rights. It has nothing to do with whose time is worth more, or how much that time is worth. We have a much more complex problem than that. We all need to start thinking about theatre as a whole rather than only thinking about getting our share of the pie.

  3. I am a habitual lurker and rarely comment on the internet, but your post moved me, if only to say thank you for giving voice to the issues that plague my daily existence. As the Artistic Director of a tiny theatre in a town with no scene, I found myself sort of holding back tears as I read. We’re one of those groups where everything appears to be going well, but in reality we’re always one or two missed fundraising goals away from shutting down.

    We have great support from our community, but the numbers just don’t add up. If we made all of our budget through ticket sales, we’d have to perform every single night, sell out every show, and still charge way more than what our audience can afford. There’s little institutional money available to cover the difference, so I often feel stuck. People might look at our production photos and think our shows are extravagant, but we borrow just about everything. We’re able to maintain a decent production value only because of the relationships we have with large LORT theaters and the local university. I’m incredibly proud of our ability to make sophisticated work on a shoestring. We’ve never let poverty convince us that we can’t make outstanding art, but the economic realities are still there.

    I, too, feel ambivalent about the “I don’t work for free” memes. I totally support the right for artists to earn a living wage; but, while talent doesn’t work for free, I do. I also frequently pay budget overages out of pocket; and when we don’t hit our marks I pay salaries, too. I’m lucky to have a decent paying day job that affords me a lot of flexibility, which I understand many performers and designers don’t have. It’s just that, when it comes to small companies like ours, accusations of holding out financially are not true. Like you said, “There is no more money.”

    Anyway, I don’t have much to add to what you’ve written except my enthusiastic endorsement that everything you’ve said is how it is. Thank you.

  4. scriberess says:

    Part of the dilemma, IMHO, is how to attract theatre goers and finding the right plays that hit their fancy. If I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that perhaps there are too many theatres to support paying customers? I’m wondering if it isn’t an “age” thing in that theatre doesn’t attract a young(er) audience, as it did in years past. On a personal note and being part of an older age category, I love musical revivals but a younger audience perhaps – pure speculation – can’t relate in the same way. Not being in the producing business, I’m sure that the cost of staging a new show must be much higher/astronomical…people don’t have as much disposable income…life has become more complicated overall. Just some thoughts, for what they’re worth.

    • Theatre does indeed attract a younger audience. We only analyze the data for larger theatres, so we only know they’re not going there. But many small theatres, like my own, rely on that under-40 audience.

      It’s not just about paying customers. As I’ve said, no small nonproft can charge enough to cover its expenses. It’s about income from all sources. There’s not enough money in the market from all sources to cover expenses in all theatres. That’s the dilemma we need to consider.

      • mw1 says:

        But that’s part of the problem. Younger audiences tend not to be able to afford high ticket prices……but those high ticket prices are what allow you to pay your artists well and to have high production values.

    • chasbelov says:

      I’ve been to indie theatres where the average age is in the low 30’s. The big theatres tend to do plays that are not as attractive to younger theatre goers.

  5. I’m curious if you have any data on how small theatres have done with Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaigns. I know that many indie filmmakers (not just Zach Braff) are using this technique successfully and that it helps to draw money through social media from friends and family outside of one’s local area. I don’t know if any sort of guidelines exist as to how to create a successful campaign although I have seen some individuals meet their goals very nicely.

    The other thing I would suggest is to look more closely at the model Stuart Bousel has developed for the San Francisco Olympians Festival. His commissioning process may be ass-backwards from what you would expect at a larger-budget New Works Festival, but at least participating playwrights get to hear their plays read in performance.

    George Heymont
    http://myculturallandscape.blogspot.com/2007/11/about-author.html
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-heymont

  6. mw1 says:

    We either have to get better at getting people interested in coming to see our work….or we have to finally acknowledge that there is way more supply of theatre than there is demand.

    Not everyone needs to start a theatre company. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to just do that one great project you’ve been dreaming of and then move on.

    You don’t need to start a theatre company to be able to do great theatre.

  7. mw1 says:

    Part of the challenge with starting/running a small or medium-sized theatre company is that many companies get obsessed with finding a permanent space.

    But in reality, a space requires large investments of time, money, upkeep, etc…….and some companies end up spending all of their time trying to keep a building open rather than spending their resources on doing great work or hiring great people.

    The economics of having your own space are inescapable: any time that your theatre is dark and empty amounts to wasted money. Unless you’re already bringing in enough to cover your costs (even after building expenses), you can’t afford to have your theatre going unused.

  8. mw1 says:

    Pardon my multiple posts on this.

    But I speak from personal experience….I worked for a small-medium size theatre for a while. I took the job shortly after they moved into their first permanent space.

    And taking on the space nearly killed the company. They spent so much time and energy trying to raise funds to support the space…..and so many staff hours trying to get it rented out during dark periods….that it fundamentally altered the identity of the company.

    The company once had permanent acting ensemble of 6-8, but now it’s down to 3 permanent actors with the rest being jobbed in show-by-show.

    They’ve managed to survive and turn their space into a vibrant home for many other companies…..but I doubt this was the vision that the founders originally had in mind.

  9. Jeanie Smith says:

    Great, albeit sobering, article on the all-too-true state of small/indie theaters… But yes, I’ve heard recently of two small theaters in the South Bay closing shop– or at least “taking a break.” And what you say about grants etc. is right on the mark. Like you, I try to throw what I can to theaters I want to see survive– but this paragraph in your essay is the one that really resonated:

    “The next step is harder: Rethinking how theatre is made, what a “theatre” is, and
    how we can reinvent ourselves to face a changing economy. There are more nonprofit
    theatres than there is money to support them. Period. What do we do about that? Can
    we do anything about that? Should we? These are the hard questions. These are
    discussions we need to be having.”

    Can we and should we… good questions. Is it a question of letting theaters die if they can’t make it, and the others will take up the slack? Survival of the fittest? Arts organizations come and go all the time, just like restaurants, mom-n-pop businesses, retail shops… We lament their passing, but shift our shopping habits, just as we shift our theatre-going habits. Can we, should we, halt evolution?

    You brought this to mind: a friend owned a corner grocery that had been around for 50+ years; he helped a customer with her 2 bags of groceries out to her car, where he saw SIX bags of Safeway groceries in the back seat. He turned to her and said, “You’re killing me…” That grocery store is now gone, and the neighborhood complained bitterly of its passing– but I’ll wager none of them shopped there exclusively, no matter how great their produce and deli were… But, maybe its time had, simply, run out? Should it have been saved at all costs?

    Your call to action is appropriate, and necessary; but I think the “next step” is critical for all theaters, everywhere, large or small…. what the hell are we doing, and why? what dialogue are we creating with our audience? have we found our audience? or do we want to find a new one? How do we do that? These are the tough conversations we’re avoiding, in the rush to pick the next season, to land the next grant, to promote the show on Facebook as if it’s a great new cereal… What do we do when the Greatest Show fails to meet budget expectations? just keep doing the same thing we’ve always done?…

    TBA has regional meetings for artistic directors, yes? perhaps a good place to begin this discussion…

  10. I won’t dive into most of it, since it is covered. But as the AD of a small indie company myself I really appreciate a few of the things you touched on, and I am probably not adding much to the conversation but here I go

    I am so very aware of the issue of being paid. We do one show a year right now, not because that is what I want to do, but because it is the only way I can pay all of the artists involved. I am able to use AEA actors for now, but I pay my non-AEA the same weekly stipend. But it is a trade off, as I said I do one show a year, beg for grants, which I am constantly turned down for for increasingly depressing reasons. (though we did land one small one this year), and I had a handful of donors give.

    The other thing I am very passionate about is comp tickets. I have a very liberal policy, I give everyone involved tickets and have a very lenient industry comp policy. Anyone that can realistically hire an actor or designer or director I will happily give a ticket to. Last show I wound up giving away almost an entire house of tickets. I also admit to asking for industry comps much more this past year. Why? It lets me get out there and see the work of the people that want to work for me. But it drives me insane when people ask for free ticket just because they don’t want to spend $20. Why should I give you a ticket? Are you going to hire someone on the production? Are you going to house manage or usher for me? If the answer is no then get out of here! We need to stop devaluing our own art, and that is what we are doing when we just expect to be given a ticket for no good reason. I have a particularly huge gripe with the AEA comp situation. I am supposed to just let you in for free because you are a member of a union that in many cases makes life very difficult for the company? Drives me crazy.

    Anyhow I can sense I am digressing a bit into a rant, so I will wrap that up with a reply to Jeanie above. All we can do is support each other, get out there and see each others work promote it when we do, share with each other resources and direct artists to other companies where we think they would do well. Well that and take a good hard look at what is is that we are trying to do with out companies. Do we continue to do a 5 show season or do we cut to 3? The money that we have, where do we put it? What is important for your production? We have to make these decisions, tighten the belt and do good work.

  11. Gabriel Ross says:

    I see regional theaters doing co-productions more and more these days. Are there any thoughts about how small theaters could team up in the same way? Or does the model not work so well at that level?

    • In many ways, regional theatres have adopted a model of the co-productions (both national and international) that gained footing thanks in large part to the networking and cooperation of OPERA America’s member companies. Particularly with opera, it makes sense to share the costs of sets, costumes and be able to amortize them among the original investing participants and from income derived from future rentals.

      Small theatre companies are not in the same league and may not even have much communication with similar companies in other cities. The reason I mention crowdsourcing tools like Indiegogo and Kickstarter as alternatives to traditional grant writing is that (a) there is probably less paperwork and documentation involved, and (b) whatever return on investment you get is probably going to come in faster and leave you with leads for future appeals.

      While a Kickstarter campaign could not save the New York City Opera from terrible mismanagement by its board of directors, earlier this year when the San Diego Opera was on its deathbed, a Kickstarter campaign organized by many of its supporters helped get the company back on its feet. The following article offers some interesting insights — although it deals with companies with infinitely bigger budgets than Impact Theatre.

      http://www.operapulse.com/editorial/2014/04/25/making-opera-relevant-in-the-current-economy/

  12. Great points, Melissa. Especially the basic ‘how do I help” strategies you mention: show up, take friends, publicize shows to your people, pay for a ticket, donate time or money to make theatre happen. If the ticket is over $30, aim for a comp. If it’s under $30, aim to pay and support your fellow artists. We can all try and reframe the large infrastructure, we can all dream up the most badass plays imaginable and continue to make the case that theatre is deeply fun/important/riveting/potent for our communities, but the day-to-day realities of theaters can be helped by individuals showing up and paying for the pleasure.

  13. evelynjeanpine says:

    This is such an important post, Melissa. I do worry, however, that we let the public and private foundations off the hook a little too much. They bemoan the lack of certain audiences and then don’t necessarily step up to provide ongoing support for theaters who connect with those audiences. They set up unrealistic expectations in terms of how much theaters can make from other sources of funding — ticket sales, big donors, crowd-sourcing. I think the leadership of small theaters — meaning often the boards of directors need to educate funders about how theatre actually works in communities. I get frustrated when they support specific projects for small theaters but don’t work with them to create in partnerships some ongoing support and then complain (as they did at TBA a few years ago,) that there are too many theaters. Theatre in the U.S. is built on the unpaid work of (mostly) women — and that model needs to be changed. I think the small individual efforts are terrific and you are extremely eloquent about them, but I also believe over the next generation we need to work with funders to create ongoing funding streams for small theaters which pay people for work — pay everybody.
    “You may say I’m a dreamer. . . ” etc.

  14. joe landini says:

    i do feel like Theatre needs to be re-invented and new models need to be developed. when i hear about subscriptions, unions and seasons, i realize how much more work we need to do. every theater should reflect the community they live in. we even need to rethink the idea of value and compensation, there should be no arguing over “who gets paid” because the broken system insures that we all stay indentured. i think theatre should be based on the idea of a communal experience and let go of “artistic excellence”. people are starving for authentic experiences and thats what theatre does amazingly. all of my curatorial decisions are based on who wants to participate in the creative process and The Garage has an open-door policy, everyone is able to participate and funders and audiences are really excited about that. the Bay Area has an incredibly diverse culture, we should be leading the vanguard on all communities having access to participate in this authentic, communal experience and we should be able to open our doors to everyone. i think the experiences that last few weeks around Ferguson has shown me that our artistic community could be doing so much more by offering more inclusivity (i know im certainly not doing enough). the world is waiting for us to lead, we just need to step up and do it.

  15. scriberess says:

    Very interesting, informative and thought-provoking replies covering all aspects of the theatre. My question and maybe it doesn’t fit into this category or topic but…how do we, as playwrights, get our plays produced, given the limitations you all mentioned? We got our plays now what do we do with them?

  16. gwangung says:

    To cross two blog posts with provocative thoughts:

    http://nonprofitwithballs.com/2014/12/can-we-all-just-admit-there-is-no-such-thing-as-nonprofit-sustainability/

    Seems to me the self-sustaining vs. sustainable question has relevance here.

  17. dayoanderson says:

    I have had several conversations about “The Business Model of Theater.” If we were to look at Theater as a business model, with a someone who has an MBA, they’d laugh. They’d say THIS IS A BROKEN BUSINESS MODEL. They’d say it’s not sustainable. I’m 100% in favor of this article… and we’re the creative types out here. We need to get creative about OUR BUSINESS MODELS.

    I’m currently on a very real search for an MBA student with a penchant for the arts and a desire to revolutionize an artistic economy. My day job is with my city government and I’m also realizing how much local politics can help this cause. Yes, they’ve got a lot going on, but they also know that working with theaters that produce shows about issues in their cities HELPS EVERYONE.

    We need to think about the business model the way we think about a set piece that is beautiful but not working for the actors… how do we solve it? How can we adjust that light to shine brightly on our lead?

    Thanks for this article. Really appreciate it.

  18. Pete Miller says:

    Thanks to You’ve Cott Mail for bringing this to my attention. Melissa and those commenting on this post have covered a lot of great ground. I’d like to kick in on the “So now what?”

    I only believe in one answer to the problem of limited resources for making theatre – more high frequency playgoers. Yes, even more audience won’t fully fund art creation with ticket buying, but more playgoers also lead to more contribution. Roughly speaking, if you can create 10 new playgoers you get one small donor. Create 100 playgoers to get one show sponsor for a small company. Create 1000 playgoers to get a lead giver. Create a million playgoers to get a new multi-million dollar foundation supporting the arts. Create ten million new playgoers to get Americans calling in large numbers for more public arts funding.

    I only believe we will succeed in creating masses of new playgoers through cooperative effort. I’ve been writing and speaking about this whenever I get a new useful idea or when the opportunity presents itself, neither of which happens all that often. My basic manifesto is here: http://www.2amtheatre.com/2012/12/04/what-if-we-could/

    However, I am not wedded to my own ideas. I first launched this whole thing into the ether in the hope that someone else would let me know she already had a much better idea and effort I could get behind and help. Sadly, I still seem to have the best strategy I’ve heard. What I am wedded to is that the surest way to more resources to make plays is more audience and that only a broad partnership of many institutions working together can make materially more audience.

  19. Leslie says:

    Sobering, but right on target, even as related to non-profit, volunteer based, community theatre organizations. I am lucky to live in an area where the desire for theatre has grown the number of theatre organizations in the vicinity, but realistic enough to understand that keeping on keeping on is very difficult! Putting on shows takes. It only cash, but many, many volunteer hours in many cases. So much more than people realize who are not involved directly. Thank you for the honest assessment of the theatre industry!

  20. Chris says:

    Theatres, large and small, simply cannot survive on ticket sales alone. The average theatre-goer never thinks about how much royalty payments are, how much is being spent on costumes, sets, props, electricity, maintenance, etc.

    If everyone would just take into account how much they get for their oh-so-cheap ticket costs and actually double the cost of the ticket; then the theatre MAY be able to survive, and comfortably.

    Hopefully people will soon realize again (as past generations have) how valuable theatre is and decide to give back.

  21. I come from a small city in India’s North where Theatre is long forgotten (perhaps, it was never here), but a few of my seniors were really talented pupils. I never appreciated the original theatre, maybe I didn’t understand that the core is theatre. I studied journalism, but hated it to the depths I never knew (all thanks to the now commercial nature of the so called responsibility our newsmakers try to pretend to and show off to the people) I self invited myself to be an indie filmmaker and the first thing that came to my mind was theatre. Oh I can’t even express how satisfied I feel when I sit, learn, watch and enjoy art right in front of me. I guess it has helped me a lot to go ahead with my first short film.

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