October 7, 2012

On the Economics of Small Theatre

My friend Karen replied to my earlier blog post about small theatre companies who don't/can't offer compensation to their cast/crew by offering an intriguing question. What if these companies gave audiences the option to pay an extra $5 per ticket, and all that extra money was then split amongst the artists?

The practicality of this solution is debatable. But it did get me thinking. Although much of our audience is each other - our fellow theatre colleagues, our families, friends and co-workers - the rest is the general public, who by and large are unaware of the economics of small theatre.

And I should take this moment to talk more about those economics, lest my previous post be considered to be a blanket indictment against these small companies.

It costs a lot to produce a play in Boston.

A three-week rental of the area's various blackbox and small spaces costs between $2,400 (Factory Theatre) to over $6,000 (BCA Plaza Theatre). Dramatists' Play Service's average royalty rate for a full-length play is $75 per performance. Then there's budget for set construction, costume budget, and props. There's publicity - postcards and/or posters and occasionally advertizing space. There are other miscellaneous expenses, particularly if they're utilizing the theatre's in-house tech staff or equipment.

How much is our audience aware of the expense in producing the play they're watching? Are they aware that in many cases, nobody (actors, crew, designers, director, or even producers) gets paid?

What benefit would there be, if any, if these small companies were transparent with their audiences about where their ticket prices go? If they approached their audience with the dilemma they face - wanting to keep ticket prices low but then having little or nothing left for the artists - would they be open to paying a few dollars more? Would they be more open to making donations? Would they be willing to be more supportive of small theatre in general? Get their employers to underwrite productions? Lobby their state/local politicians to create more arts funding?

You never know if there's a theatre lover in your audience who has a lucrative job at one of the Boston area's tech, finance, legal or healthcare companies, who has no idea that box office income never covers the cost of production and the artists involved are largely working without compensation.  This transparency could be the start of productive dialogue that could be a watershed moment for Boston theatre.

No comments: