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July 21, 2008

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chance d. muehleck

Greetings from a frequent lurker, first-time commenter.

My company is currently finalizing a residency agreement with the Brooklyn Lyceum, which is an amazing space in the South Slope area. We're very fortunate to have found a creative solution to the real estate problem, and hopeful that audiences from both Manhattan and Brooklyn will know where to find us.

As a group that develops material collaboratively over time, we covet long incubation periods. When we do pay for rehearsal and performance space, it eats about 50% of our budget. That leaves half for everything else, including marketing and actor salaries. And while we always pay our performers fairly, we want to be able to increase those amounts. Which seems to be the crux of the conversation (even for Board-less indie theatres like mine).

Thanks for maintaining such an interesting blog.

Ken

"One thing that's gotten bandied about a bit (on this blog and by Mike and a few others) is, essentially, finding a way to re-brand the idea of General Operating Expenses by taking a page from how Opera and Ballet do it and creating named endowed funds that pay for people's salaries."

It's odd that you bring this up, Isaac, because lately I've started wondering whether theater in America should follow the model of the Opera, Ballet, and Symphony Orchestra: a big-ticket, high-end status item, that is performed less frequently, but in luxurious surroundings for the benefit of big-bucks donors. There is a lot that is scary about this scenario in terms of theater's need to be challenging, provocative, and accessible, all of which are likely to be comprised by such a situation. However, as small theater company after small theater company folds up its tent, one can't help noticing that there's always a Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, or New York City Ballet season---good or bad economy, real estate boom or bust. When you're starving out on the street, it's normal to be jealous as you look through the restaurant window at the happy, well-fed diners inside.

I don't know if anything I've just said makes any sense in terms of the theater we would like to see and make. I just don't know.

RLewis

I think what my company spends on real estate would be misleading because of the site-specific nature of our work. Most of our spaces are donated, box office splits, or some minimal fee to cover occupancy expenses (electricity, security, water, etc.). Time and leg-work are our real expenses.

But one thing I would raise in the buildings vs. people issue is their financial disconnect. While you're correct in saying, "so the two things are more interrelated than perhaps we like to think", it's still not much so on the balance sheet. I doubt that folks think much about how these 2 things come almost entirely from different pots of money.

Local govt's fund Capital Campaigns in ways that neither they or any other pot of money funds artists. I'm sure that makes sense to elected officials, cuz even if your company goes under, they'll still have a new building and increased property tax revenues going forward. It's almost a no-lose give for them. Artists are more like consumable foods - once eaten, the money spent is off the balance sheet (so eat an artist slowly).

So, I worry that comparing artists and buildings will not serve this discussion as well as it does HTFA, but I would like to see a bunch of actors roaming the City with brass plaques on their backs of Ford Motor Company Company. Nice one.

Adam

After working in a development office at a university for 4 years, I learned that it was easier to get people behind funding student scholarships than it was to get them to support a new building. I wonder why there isn't something comparable in more theaters where funders support productions or artists.

Some theatres do do this. I can name one that I know of where funders supported a specific director each time around--or at least the project the director was working on.

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