Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater

By Tim Donahue; Jim Patterson | Go to book overview

1
Commercial Theaters versus Not-for-Profit Theaters:
Key Differences

When most people talk about American professional theater, the main division made is between Broadway and everything else. But really the division that better suits is the distinction between professional commercial theater and professional not-for-profit theater.

About one-quarter of new Broadway shows of late have been funded as notfor-profit. In the 2006–7 season, out of thirty-five show openings on Broadway, eight shows were not-for-profit. In the 2007–8 season, of thirty-seven productions, eleven were not-for-profit. Of the forty Broadway theaters, five are owned or leased and operated by not-for-profit entities. A sixth Broadway not-for-profit will be added if Second Stages makes good on its plan to purchase the Helen Hayes Theatre.

Except for Broadway, touring productions, and legitimate theater in Las Vegas, nearly all theater in the United States is not-for-profit. Two notable exceptions are a small number of dinner theaters, found mainly in the Midwest, and the African American touring play phenomenon most commonly called the “chitlin’ circuit,” discussed later. Dinner theaters cannot qualify as not-for-profit enterprises because they serve two unrelated purposes, presenting theater and serving up a nice piece of roast beef. The National Dinner Theatre Association has twenty-four members. Actors Equity reports the number of weeks worked in the dinner theater for its members have declined by 65 percent in the last twenty-five years. Currently dinner theater is continuing to decline in number and finances.

It would seem that once you say “commercial” and “not-for-profit,” you’ve pretty much defined the difference between these two types of theater, but there are other differences that come directly from the main difference in financial goals. Some include:

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