RSC to use a hybrid commercial/nonprofit producing model for new musical

The Stage, 5/25/11

Matilda the Musical's forthcoming London transfer will employ a 'unique' producing model, marking the first time the Royal Shakespeare Company has produced commercially in the West End without a business partner.  While RSC productions have had commercial lives before, these have either been through an outside producer or in a co-production.  When Matilda opens at the Cambridge Theatre this October, the RSC will be produced by the RSC using more than 2 million investment from the company's reserves. However, the risk will be mitigated by a group of philanthropists who have agreed to protect the RSC against any losses. Any profits from the production will be fed back into the RSC's charitable operations. While this is in some ways similar to the model for the National Theatre's transfer of War Horse, unlike the National, the RSC is not using investors.  "If you keep control of it yourself and raise the investment yourself, then every bit of Matilda's success -- which can only be hoped for, it can never be guaranteed -- could come back into the charity of the RSC and underpin our education work, events work and subsidised ticket prices," explained RSC executive director Vikki Heywood. "We are in a tough world -- we've been cut by 15% [by Arts Council England] -- so we have an absolute duty to make sure that as much of that hoped-for success can get ploughed back into the company."

 

Commentary: B'way's commercial producing model now the same as nonprofits?

Gordon Cox, Variety, 5/6/11

Remember when the new play on Broadway was considered a dying breed?  Not anymore: 14 new plays opened on the Main Stem this season. As brave producers pull together productions that aim for commercial viability, Gotham nonprofits with Broadway venues also have stepped up to give new titles a Rialto showcase.  The current crop of commercial play producers are upfront about the fact that in most cases, a new play -- heck, any play -- won't work without a star.  Since most star thesps will only agree to limited-engagement productions, an open-ended commercial stint for a new play is becoming increasingly rare. In fact, the contempo commercial play model, with short runs regularly rotating in and out of a single season, is starting to look familiar.  "Now the commercial theater is doing the same limited runs as nonprofit theaters," says Lynne Meadow of Manhattan Theater Club.  No matter how long the run, a frugal production budget is always a must, as evidenced in the predominance of smaller-cast shows. Nonprofits, however, can use the cushion of a subscriber base and an annual operating budget to allow for more expansive productions. For both commercial and nonprofit producers of new plays, hurdles to success loom large. But for some producers, that's part of the fun.  "It seemed like a fantastic challenge to see if we can make a show like The Motherfucker With The Hat work on Broadway without a launch at an Off Broadway nonprofit or at the National in London," says producer Scott Rudin.  If the nonprofit Off Broadway scene is often so much easier, one might wonder why producers still aim for the Main Stem at all.  "I still think Broadway is the shot heard round the world," Rudin responds.

 

Commentary: The blurring/vanishing/missing line between commercial & nonprofit

Diane Ragsdale, 5/20/11

People have been talking about the blurring line between the commercial and nonprofit arts sectors (and related mission/market tradeoffs) for decades. Some see this line blurring and become concerned; others seem to see it as a natural progression and even a step forward for nonprofits. I'd venture to say that Patron Technology CEO Eugene Carr is in the second camp, based on his recent blog post, "What's the Secret Sauce Today?":

"... more and more, Artistic Directors need to realize they must balance audience needs with the financial needs and mission of the organization, and in these economic times, the mission may have to bend a bit.... more and more organizations are realizing that the decidedly for-profit impulse of filling the house at any cost must be job number one. I'm not suggesting that organizations don't already think about doing this -- but what I am suggesting is that earned income is looking more and more like the newest and best bastion of hope in this economic downturn, and if that's true, it requires a change of focus and a reallocation of resources."

Is it just me or is anyone else worried about what might be implied by that little prepositional phrase "at any cost"?  And how far can we bend the mission before it breaks?  At what point might we need to worry that the commercial/nonprofit line has blurred to such a degree that there is no longer a distinctive role for nonprofit arts institutions?  At what point might someone suggest that nonprofit arts organizations have become for-profits-in-disguise?

 

Related: What has gone wrong at a lot of nonprofits is trying to be popular

Joseph Futral, in response to Diane Ragsdale's post, 5/21/11

Seeking increased earned revenue in and of itself is not a bad thing and not contrary to being a not-for-profit. Just because one is organized as a not-for-profit does not mean the organization cannot make a profit or even expect to make a profit. The point is what the organization does with those profits. That said, I have seen a dance company, seeking funding, that existed solely to produce a Nutcracker. One production a year. This drove me absolutely up the wall. Plus they were seeking public arts funding. Talk about being a for-profit in the guise of a not-for-profit. Most ballet companies do a Nutcracker to fund their season. This company had no plans to do anything else. Creating art, for an arts organization, is always job #1. We want the affect of our art to be enough butts in the seats to justify our existence as a business entity, but I would say what has gone wrong at a lot of arts organizations is the approach of trying to find what will be popular instead of finding what it is you do well. Frankly, being a business is the wrong point to find what it is you do well. You should know that, or at least have a good idea of it, before you become a business. For too many organizations, being a business is an experiment, not the result of what they create.

 

In Ohio, a blended commercial/non-profit approach to classical music radio

Ideastream.org, 5/5/11

Classical music [radio] station WCLV will soon officially become part of ideastream, which includes public broadcasting stations WVIZ TV and WCPN radio.  The WCLV Foundation will transfer ownership of the classical commercial station to ideastream after receiving approval from the FCC, which should take about three months.  WCLV President Robert Conrad was a co-founder of the station in 1962.  He says most classical music stations in the U.S. have been sold off, but parent corporation Radio Seaway decided to preserve WCLV for the community.  But, Conrad says, there was still the future to think about: "I'm not going to be around forever, and we realized that... and so now we're looking for a way for the station to be preserved beyond me, when I'm off the scene.  And the obvious organization to do that is ideastream."   WCLV moved into the ideacenter just this winter.  It will remain a commercial station -- which has its advantages, Conrad says.  It can raise money for outside non-profits like the Cleveland Orchestra or the Cleveland Playhouse, whereas non-commercial stations can only raise money for themselves under federal rules.   "We can be a little more exploitive, if you will," said Conrad. "But the most important thing is that we're keeping classical music on the radio in Northeast Ohio." 

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