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October 08, 2004


jack dillon


I think you are missing something. The profit of theater is not profit. It has never been profit. Mama Mia is for money...Ibsen was for something beyond. Do we all want to make money. Yes. Do we work hard to do so? Yes. Should we take the Great White Way as the model to compare all other theater in this capitalist, free-market system? Absolutely not. Theater is Charity just like Meals-On-Wheels, or Habitat For Humanity is a charity. Stop feeling shame because of this fact. The very real profit of theater cannot be measured in $.

And if you do want to measure it in dollars, look to indirect spending, rather than direct spending, generated within a community as a watermark for the economic value of theater. Its not just the meal the couple buys before the show that makes a difference, but rather the increase in cultural worth of the area which brings in more high paying jobs because the employers can use arts institutions as a powerful pitch to desireable employees. More reason to move to X-town, larger tax base, more influx of outside revenue...and arts programing usually bolsters the grade school educational programing in the area, providing low cost solutions to the failures in public education.

Theater has to be a charity...but it is not a hole that money is thrown down without expectation of return. Emotion, Ideas, empathy for your fellow man, awareness of the world around you...the elevating inspiration that comes from an expressed truth...entertainment that does not involve dick jokes, or reality competitions. THIS IS VALUABLE.

Don't let the bankers and accountants tell you that what we do has the same bottom line as what they do. It doesn't, and it shouldn't.

(I have cribbed much of these thoughts Jaan Whitehead, and Chuck Bright...)



Thanks Jack! And thanks for the new reading suggestions.

Isaac Butler

Theater never has been self-sustaining. Even the Athenians had government arts subsidies. The reformation of the theater code from a for-profit touring model to a government sponsored model under Queen Elizabeth gave rise to not only better living conditions and a drop in the prostitution rate, but a golden age of theater than has never been (and may never again be) replicated.

We live in a society that only values that which can be commodified, and quite a lot of art, including most theater (and not all theater is art, but that's a different story) can be commodified, period. It doesn't exist to make money. This is why no one, including many of the artists who make it, take it seriously. Or, like you and like myself, we go through periods of deep conflict about it. If there's no money to be had, is it even worth doing?

This whole debate about Peter and Jerry befuddles me a bit (not your post, but rather the actual story). Don't you think there would be, I don't know, a million non-profit companies that would jump at the chance to do a semi-new Edward Albee play? He is one of the most important living American playwrights, second only maybe to the vastly inferior Alfred Miller. The only reason why he is in this mess is that they're doing a commercial production. The nonprofit code exists for a reason and he should use it. Give it to, I don't know, the Vineyard, or the Public or the Atlantic or something. This isn't the death knell of theater, it's a stupid producing decision.

David Lawrence

Great post! Well done! I think it is possible that theatre must acknowledge that money exists if it is to exist. It may not be either charity of profit. Paying actors, technicians, writers, designers, directors, and others something, even if it is less than they deserve, may not only be a respectful and essential component of treating them as professionals, but paying people allows them to spend their time and energy not doing something else. This is also true for producers. Not making money may not be sustainable.

Tim Hulsey

Whether theater can be profitable or not, it can be sustained without massive infusions of public money. Outdoor drama is a perfect example. Most outdoor dramas are produced by community-based, nonprofit organizations, without financial assistance from government arts grants.

But governments still tend to provide the venue -- or at least, the land for that venue -- which is why state and county parks are the most common locales for outdoor drama.

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