Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater

By Tim Donahue; Jim Patterson | Go to book overview

2
Commercial Theater On- and Off-Broadway:
Financial and Legal Structures

The legal and financial shape of commercial theater production evolves over time in response to changes in law, tax rules, and the availability of capital. It always has. Theater people are creative, and not only on stage.

In 1599 the landlord of Shakespeare’s performing group, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, would not renew its lease. So the acting troupe dismantled the theater building in a matter of days around Christmas time, moved the timber and wood across the river outside of the city of London, and used that material to construct the Globe Theater. The Globe was built in an area called Southwark, known for bear-baiting pits, prostitution, and pickpockets. Sounds a little bit like the old 42nd Street! And we know about it in detail because its relocation was followed by years of lawsuits, which makes this four-hundred-year-old story sound even more modern. This historical anecdote is offered as evidence that theater people adapted in the face of adversity and challenge in the late sixteenth century, as they still do in our day.

The most common form and shape for a commercial theater production is described here, though the overview glosses over a lot of details. Any specific production will alter some or all of this structure, depending on where the negotiating power lies among the producers, investors, authors, designers, and performers.

It must be said that not only negotiating power shapes the financial structure of commercial theater; tradition also plays a big role. Because each producing entity is staging only one play, producers have been leery of risking that one show on a financial innovation.

The dominant legal form for large businesses in the United States is the corporation. The concept of incorporation goes back centuries, but its modern form in business took hold in the twentieth century. A corporation is a kind of artificial person. A corporation can sue and be sued, own assets in its own name, sign

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