Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater

By Tim Donahue; Jim Patterson | Go to book overview

Preface
It’s All about the Money

Oscar Wilde—a man of the theater and other places—defined a cynic as a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. By that standard, Stage Money is a cynical book.

The value of the theater is art or at least entertainment. As an audience at the best theater, we see ourselves or others on stage in new or deeper ways and from psychological, social, or political perspectives, and we are moved to laughter and tears. Triumphant performances complete an aesthetic circle that leaves us welling up with contented excitement. Even through tears, that experience of completeness that the best art supplies is profoundly encouraging. Life has meaning for a few moments at least, and we can hope for humanity again.

None of the value of theater can be found here. This book is cynical, using Oscar Wilde’s definition. We seek to give a bracing overview of the finances of the theater today. We want to know what the cost of theater is. These questions fascinate us:

How are theater performances organized financially today, meaning
in the period between the 1999–2000 and 2007–2008 seasons?

From where does the money come and to where does it flow?

How do the finances of theater compare with those of other businesses?

How does the commercial theater compare with the not-for-profit
theater?

To answer these and other questions, Stage Money presents models and approaches, some of which are new to the literature of the professional theater but will be recognized by anyone interested in other, more conventional businesses. In applying these models, we find ourselves often at odds with many of the traditional rules of thumb that abound in the professional theater.

For example, the common wisdom states that four of five commercial Broadway productions fail to recoup their initial investment; we demonstrate that this was not true in the years that are covered in this book. Common wisdom stresses

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