Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater

By Tim Donahue; Jim Patterson | Go to book overview

7
Shall We Dance?:
The Commercial and Professional
Not-for-Profit Theater Relationship

Today the fates and fortunes of many not-for-profit theaters are intertwined with those of the commercial theater in ways that were unimaginable thirty years ago. It’s a dance, and like dance it requires communication, grace, trust, and art.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the not-for-profits began only after the first Broadway transfer of the not-for-profit production The Great White Hope enhanced the reputation of the regional theater that originated it but provided it no revenues. In contrast the potential financial reward of a successful Broadway transfer was demonstrated eight years later when the Public Theatre developed A Chorus Line. That legendary musical helped support the Public, a not-for-profit theater, for fifteen years; it was for a time the longest-running Broadway musical in history.

The contrast between the financial outcomes of these two productions are touchstones of the history of not-for-profit theaters in the United States that are devoted to the development of new plays and musicals. The productions were successes in every measure, but one redounded financially to the originating notfor-profit theater, and one did not. Once the art is taken care of, it’s all about the money.


Arena Stage, 1967

The Great White Hope, a new play by Howard Sackler, opened in 1967 at not-forprofit Arena Stage, Washington, D.C., supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The original cast, which included James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, moved to a commercial production on Broadway in 1968. This was the first time a regional theater production with its cast appeared on Broadway. The play ran for 546 performances on Broadway and was later made into an esteemed film.

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