Dr. Hall's Prognosis
Don R. Hall, "An Angry White Guy In Chicago," posts some hard truths about the business of producing theatre. In it, he writes:
Anyone with a fucking brain can see that the art of live theater is hurting - bleeding profusely from the colon and spleen, arthritically climbing those stage door steps for one more performance to an empty house. The 'business' is kicking the crap out of the 'show.'
Despite the gloom and doom, he does offer some suggestions for mitigating the bleeding (he cites options within the realms of real estate, marketing and education).
Check it out.
The sad, hard fact of life is that theatre has - and always will have - a limited audience. I've mentioned this many, many times in Jamespeak, but I do think it bears repeating.
One reason for this is distribution. Anyone anywhere over the world has access to a television show or movie. If you miss it when it airs or screens, there are reruns, the Internet, TiVo and DVDs (renting an episode of The Wire is no less an experience than watching said episode on HBO and with the MPAA continuing to gut and neuter the film industry, it's sometimes a better experience to rent a disc of a film rather than see it in its theatrical release). Although plays can be read and remounted, you can only see a certain production for a finite period of time and if you happen to be in the region it's being staged (Dorothy Lemoult and I recently lamented that we're unable to see one another's work, since we're on opposite ends of the continent).
A play being shown in a 200-seat house running five shows a week for six weeks can only receive an audience of 6,000 people. There are more people in the tri-state area watching an episode of Access Hollywood in one night.
Another reason for this is due to the entrenched hegemony that electronic media has over the culture (with no signs of slowing down) and the surplus of options for spending one's free time. As Mac Rogers pointed out in our online dialogue last year, we're writing for an "overserved" market (i.e., people who see their lives reflected in many forms of media, theatre included).
I'm not bringing this up to be despairing. I just think we have to be very realistic when considering our options for marketing and audience development. The relative number of people in the population that regularly goes to see theatre as an option for spending their free time is quite small and always will be.
One thing Mr. Hall doesn't bring up (again, this may tread into the realm of the excruciatingly obvious but when I hear about Off-off-Broadway theatre companies getting into $30,000 - $70,000 in debt after one show I guess bears repeating) is that theatre companies should try to stage within their means, and I mean Well. Within. Their means.
I think one of the reasons why Nosedive has lasted for as long as it has is that it's never staged a show to date that's hit - or even come close to hitting - the $10,000 budget mark. We've never had to, even with rents for theatre spaces in the Rotten Apple skyrocketing every few months. (Let's face it: since we don't received grants, Nosedive Productions is pretty gosh darned penny-pinching.) As a result, although we're not "making money" by any stretch of the imagination, we're not encumbered by debt.
This is a big advantage that theatre has over film: you don't have to take out a second mortgage on your home to stage a play the way you often would to make a movie.
When staging an Off-off show (i.e., a show that doesn't have an open-ended run), you simply know what the cap to your income is going to be. Your house has x number of seats and you are performing for y nights and charging $15 - $18. X times y times 15 or 18 (depending on the ticket price) equals N, which is the most income you can hope for. Except you're not going to get N from ticket sales. Considering you can't realistically expect to sell out each night (you're going to have to offer some comp tickets here and there), it would serve you well to make your budget substantially lower than N.
This may mitigate the debt your company acquires and alleviate the "Sky Is Falling" syndrome. At the very least, you know just how much money you're going to lose at any given point in the run and won't wind up being $70,000 in debt.
You could also do well - hell, we all could do well - in reading and considering Mr. Hall's suggestions.
James "Scrooge" Comtois