The Playgoer: The Nonprofit Takeover of Broadway, cont.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Nonprofit Takeover of Broadway, cont.

Looks like second best won't do for the so-called Second Stage any longer. They want to play with the big boys on Broadway.

So, like the Roundabout and Manhattan Theatre Club before them (two somewhat larger institutions) they've bought themselves a Broadway house. The 596-seat Helen Hayes.

For their sake I hope they've carefully studied and learned from MTC's brief but already tumultuous history in the larger Biltmore theatre--which so far has proved inhospitable to new writing (even revivals of modern classics by established authors like Caryl Churchill).

But they're smart at least in nabbing the smallest theatre on the Rialto, the one most conducive to the work they already do. (The Hayes, in fact, just barely breaks the official 500-seat threshold to even count as "Broadway.") I'm actually not surprised the owner (a maverick outside of the Shubert-Nederlander-Jujamcyn syndicates) was willing to sell. With only 596 seats to sell, it's pretty hard these days to make a "profit" anyway--considering you're spending the same Broadway-level expenses on production, marketing, etc. So maybe only an owner with a non-profit risk factor can make a go at it.

What worries me on their behalf, though, is just how quickly and how hugely the little Second Stage is aiming to expand. They're not moving out of their current space (the very nice 2nd-floor Off Broadway 296-seater a few blocks away) and so they plan to fully program that along with the work they present at the uptown McGinn/Cazale space in addition to a full Broadway season. This seems dangerously close to the MTC plan.

The company's Executive Director Ellen Richard--formerly of the, ahem, Roundabout--puts the risks refreshingly bluntly:

“As you get bigger and more successful, the stakes go up, and everybody wants more from you,” said Ellen Richard, Second Stage’s executive director. “The artists want more — bigger shows — it’s harder. If you have a 10 percent loss on a $1 million budget, it’s $100,000. If you have it on a $15 million budget, it’s lot more.” The company’s annual budget, which is expected to double, is currently about $7.5 million.
And, as the article reports, the purchase of the Hayes itself will require a $35 million fundraising campaign.

Talk about that corporate-influenced "grow or die" mentality, eh? Something that's received a lot of attention lately, through Mike Daisey's "How Theatre Failed America" as well as some recent articles reporting the "edifice complex" of our more "successful" regional theatres. I believe, in his show, Daisey even characterizes the philosophy as something like, "Nothing proves your success to the world more than building a new building." As opposed to actually producing good work, that is.

Well luckily for Second Stage, I guess, the building has already been built. And it'll be there's for just 35 mil.

Good luck, guys!

PS. The Times article gets one little fact wrong: The Roundabout owns not one, but TWO Broadway houses. Don't forget Studio 54...


Anonymous said...

This obsession with real estate -- spaces to put on more shitty plays with underpaid artists -- is very depressing.

Could you imagine waking up to the news that a major non-profit was raising $35 million dollars... in order to guarantee ten years of their artists being paid a living wage for their work?

For guaranteeing any playwright who premieres a play with them will be provided health care for two years (often the amount of time it takes from beginning a play to seeing it through readings and workshops to production)?

That actors would receive $2000 a week, not 20% of that, since of course they are not only being paid for the work they are doing, but the more lucrative work they're giving up during that time in film and TV?

Sometimes I wish these artistic directors could live just one day as a struggling actor or emerging playwright. That real estate obsession would end -- fast.

Anonymous said...

The Playgoer needs a tip line. Don't know where to pass this along, but thought you might find this oddly interesting:
Just one of the odd things you may stumble upon, if you're playgoing to oddest places. lol. A 13th Ophelia?

Playgoer said...

Thanks for that gruesome link, Ralph.

And for tips, everyone is welcome to email me directly at playgoer [at]

Eric said...

In response to Starving Artist-

It would be exceedingly interesting to see where Artistic Directors got their early starts in their theatrical careers. Are they actors? Directors? Or are they just administration types with glossy notions of controlling the Artistic Path...

I agree, it would be nice to see non-profit houses raising money to help artists survive as artists, and not as people with day jobs, but there is something to be said for the procurement of space. In this era of quickly closing wallets, where do we draw our lines in the sand?

Anonymous said...

I, for one, would be just thrilled to support all the "non-for-profits" like 2nd Stage in producing more masterpieces like "The Little Dog Laughed" and "The Water's Edge" on Broadway. I suppose the point of non-for-profit theatre is to now move to Broadway, to collect Tony awards (such meaningful indices of artistic excellence in and of themselves) and siwng their dicks a little bit more broadly and proudly. The American Theatre is finally moving forward and into the modern age! I hope they can entice me with a roster of film and television stars for their first broadway season! Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie in "the miracle worker"! P Diddy and Kevin Spacey in "I'm not rappaport"! Could a new Theresa Rebeck play be far behind? Helen Hunt in "Happy days"?

I fucking hate you 2nd Stage! I hope you tank on broadway and I hope your orange/nickel monstrosity gets converted into an Equinox gym.