"The Goodman is non-profit, but there's still a commercial balance to maintain"

From an Oct 4, 2011 Skokie Review/Chicago Sun-Times interview with the Goodman Theater's AD Robert Falls, who is directing John Logan's play Red to open his 2011-12 season:

QUESTION. Is there anything in Red or in Rothko's character that resonates with your own life as an artist?

ROBERT FALLS: Oh yes. (Laughs.) I identify strongly with what Rothko says. He goes on and on about the seriousness of art and the disposability of pop culture and the importance of work that is serious. All of which I believe strongly. At the same time, I recognize that Rothko, as a mature artist, which I think I am, was feeling the pressure that goes with being in that position. The pressure to remain at the top of the profession, to remain cutting-edge, to continue to grow and develop, to not stagnate. There's also a natural dynamic, which is healthy, to have a younger generation of new artists coming up, and it's a challenge for the mature artist to embrace the new, to nurture and develop it, and not fear it. Rothko had to face that and that's something that I have to confront every day. Along with the commercial issues that this play raises. The Goodman is a non-profit theater, but there is still a commercial balance one has to maintain. On one hand, I am very much responsible for setting the artistic tone of the theater, but I also have to demonstrate a fiscal responsibility and face the pressure, which is always there, to sell tickets.

 

A Stratford Festival musical aims for Broadway and commercial success

Michael Posner and Kate Taylor, The Globe and Mail [Canada], 9/23/11

The leaves are starting to turn in Stratford. In a few weeks, the tourists will go home; the last shows will close by Halloween -- except for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's hit production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Meanwhile, in New York, a new Broadway season is under way, and all the talk is about when and where Jesus Christ Superstar might land. "We have high hopes," says Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff, adding that all of Broadway's big theatre owners have [seen] his production, but no deal has yet been signed. In the meantime, the musical is booked to play a 6-week run at La Jolla Playhouse, the San Diego theatre McAnuff used as a Broadway launching pad during his two stints as artistic director there. "It's a nice little tryout place, Stratford," says veteran Toronto arts administrator Mallory Gilbert. The comment is tinged with bitterness, reflecting a long-held desire in the Canadian cultural community for Stratford, the largest repertory company in North America, to play the role of national theatre, a place dedicated to cultural achievement rather than commercial success. But if a Stratford musical goes to Broadway and wins a Tony or two, it will mark the apotheosis of an opposing vision -- one the festival itself has long pursued. As government support collapsed in the 1980s and 90s, Stratford was determined to keep growing, and the once Anglo-centric institution became a machine driven by American musicals. Getting Jesus Christ Superstar onto Broadway will mean success in the arena that matters most to the festival itself. Although Ottawa has provided an extra $6 million from stimulus spending over the past two seasons, most years government grants make up only 4% of Stratford's revenues, while the box office, gift shops and snack bars account for over 70%. (Charitable donations make up the rest.) "It is very hard to be earning 70 to 80% at the box office," McAnuff says. "... That is the real struggle at Stratford: to find imaginative ways to take chances while earning the money at the box office."

 

At London's National Theatre, commercial hits offset a 15% cut in gov't subsidy

Natalie Woolman, The Stage [UK], 11/3/11

Without the financial success of War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors, the National Theatre would have struggled to stage shows including The Kitchen, Emperor and Galilean, London Road and cinema venture NT Live, the National's executive director Nick Starr has revealed. Starr's comments followed the publication of the National's annual report 2010/11, which reveals War Horse took 13.9 million in the West End during the financial year, up from 13.2 million in 2009/10. The show achieved 97% average attendance across the year, and has been seen by more than 1.4 million people in London since it opened in 2007. The financial results of One Man, Two Guvnors do not appear in the report because its run began in May. However, Hytner said that it had an "astonishing advance" of 2 million for its run at the Adelphi Theatre later this year. Hytner said that, with Starr as executive director, the venue is now good at "the exploitation of our successes" and said that the venue has made no cutbacks as a direct result of the reduction to its subsidy from Arts Council England, which will drop from 19.6 million in 2010/11 to 18.4 million in 2014/15 - a cut of 14.9% in real terms: "[L]arge-scale commercial successes... are made possible through the kind of commissioning and development processes for which subsidy is essential. But they are merely part of a repertoire that embraces cutting-edge work that allows experimental artists to thrive, and serious investigations of the classical canon." The surplus from War Horse has been set aside for NT Future, the organisation's redevelopment project. The report states that this is now in its detailed design phase and that more than 30 million has been raised towards its 70 million target.

 

At leading nonprofits, premium-price tickets 'pay for the mission"

Philip Boroff, Bloomberg News, 9/27/11

New York's tax-exempt theaters with Broadway houses have shied away from charging "premium" prices for choice seats at hit shows. They've left that to their commercial competitors.  Until now. Roundabout Theatre Company, enjoying its biggest hit in a decade with Anything Goes, increased the top ticket price in June to $252, 84% more than the regular orchestra-seat price of $137.  The Roundabout isn't alone. Earlier in the year, as God of Carnage starring James Gandolfini broke box office records at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, it raised its top ticket price 66% to $200. More and more nonprofit theaters are following suit. The Royal Shakespeare Company charged as much as $250 for tickets during its recent New York engagement at the Park Avenue Armory. Premium seats were also sold for Hair and The Merchant of Venice. Both were first produced by the Public Theater, which moved them to Broadway jointly with commercial producers. The Kennedy Center's acclaimed revival of Follies, which recently opened on Broadway, offers premium seats for $225. A Roundabout spokesman said that box office income helps fund Roundabout programs for developing new work, arts education in New York City public schools and commissions for writers. At Center Theatre Group, "[t]he people buying these tickets are underwriting our discounts," said Michael Ritchie, artistic director. "There is no profit that gets skimmed off into our pockets. Premium prices pay for the mission." Ben Cameron, who helps dispense $13 million annually as the program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said high prices are fine so long as cheaper ones are also available. "In a climate where subsidies are so minimal, organizations have to maximize revenues where they can," he said.

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