The Playgoer: Paper Mill in Red Ink

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Paper Mill in Red Ink

Paper Mill Playhouse is a name long associated with the kind of pleasing provincial musical theatre you'd think would always find an audience. One of the less risky regional theatre ventures, you might say, not to mention, a longstanding successful one.

Well times have changed and if the bank doesn't come through by Friday (tomorrow) they may fold. According to Variety, at least.

Paper Mill, a major regional house in the tri-state area located 30-40 minutes outside Manhattan, has mirrored the national trend in losing subscribers over recent years. This season's total of 19,500 is down from 40,000 in 1990.

Contributions make up about one-fifth of the theater's income, an unusually low percentage for non-profits (which often aim for a 50-50 split between contributed and earned).

So essentially the problem is--may we surmise?--that half of their subscriber base died over the last 15 years. Plus, they didn't cultivate donors enough.

In other words, Paper Mill was just the kind of theatre older people liked to buy tickets to, go enjoy, and then go home. As opposed to joining the "Gala Committee" or rounding up donations from all their business partners. Or to put it another way, dare I suggest that their patrons were normal people who just liked to going to the theatre? And not using it as leverage in their other local philanthropy dealings?

Yet more evidence that the philanthropy game has overtaken the seemingly more straightforward business of putting on good shows. Which may explain there are many well-funded theatre that put on bad ones.

PS. Also in the Times yesterday. Both articles point to the Broadway resurgence siphoning off some of the nearby regional sales. Perhaps, but sounds like just an excuse to me. However that new Performing Arts Center in Newark, which houses a lot of touring shows, probably has made a big dent.

PPS. If you'd like to support Paper Mill, here's their website. They're having a big fundraising performance there next week, too.

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