Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phylicia Rashad and many other prominent figures in American theater will gather in Washington, DC on Thursday to brief congressional leaders on the ongoing crisis facing the nation’s nonprofit regional theaters. The event, hosted by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), is to introduce the Supporting Theater and Generating Economic Activity Act, a federal funding initiative that has the potential to boost the theater industry as it continues to recover from the COVID-19 crisis -19 pandemic and other challenges.
If passed, the measure — also called the STAGE Act — would provide $500 million in grants annually for five years to nonprofit regional theaters, equal to about 20% of the total budget of eligible organizations.
“It’s a pretty small amount of money for the federal government, but it would make an incredible difference to theaters across the country,” Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York’s Public Theater, told The Times. “Any theater would survive and be able to serve our communities in ways that we struggle to do right now.”
The bill is the latest effort by the Professional nonprofit theater coalition, a group of artistic, executive and executive directors of over 140 theaters in all 50 states. Founded by former Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Nataki Garrett, the fast-growing group was formed during the pandemic shutdown to advocate for the inclusion of theaters in programming Subsidy for operators of closed venues Paycheck Protection Program and Paycheck Protection Program Lending.
Led by a steering committee rather than an individual, the coalition allows participating theaters to contribute “what you can” in proportion to their budgets and represents “unprecedented” innovation in the organization, according to Danny Feldman, artist of theater leaders, director of the Pasadena Playhouse: “We are all spending a lot of time now working together on cross-cutting issues and not just working alone at our own institutions.”
“It became clear that we needed to change the American theater’s relationship with the federal government,” Maria Manuela Goyanes, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C., said of the coalition’s formation. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, so we’re all going to make sure we’re at the table.”
Thursday’s briefing will be the coalition’s first official public event, which has worked with lobbying firm Arnold & Porter. Miranda, Rashad and others plan to highlight regional theaters as economic centers: Whether in rural communities or urban centers, nonprofit theaters create numerous jobs on and off the stage, draw crowds that visit neighboring restaurants and hotels, and promote stories that play on Broadway or be retold on Broadway produced by Hollywood and then exported internationally.
Before the pandemic, the nonprofit theater sector contributed over $2.8 billion to the U.S. economy through direct payments for goods and services, supported the employment of 145,000 artists, administrators and technical production staff, and served an estimated 38 million audiences. according to a report from Theater Communications Group.
“The impact of regional American theater on the economy is not as widely known, but that is the language some people speak best,” Feldman said. “The data is clear – theater is an essential part of America’s health and well-being, but we haven’t made the kind of boom that other performing arts have. And when the auto industry says, “We’re in crisis,” the government gives it billions of dollars. So why aren’t we treated equally?”
Briefing speakers will also note that nonprofit theater is a public good that regularly provides its community with arts education, public health partnerships, and free programs that address specific social issues. Luis A. Miranda Jr., political strategist and CEO of the Public Theater, cited the example Repertorio Españolwhich provides New York City students with matinee performances, lectures, Q&As, and sequential lessons designed to enhance classroom assignments.
“The “Hamilton” educational initiative. is an anomaly on the Broadway scene, but it is the work that nonprofit theaters do all the time,” said Miranda, Lin-Manuel’s father. “I also want to be fair to elected officials who have to cover every issue, from trash collection to recycling to regulating artificial intelligence.
“So you have to look them right in the face and remind them that you’re providing all these services to their community, employing their constituents and driving all this economic activity. And this will be the first of many times we remind them of that.”
Additionally, the coalition will emphasize that preserving the nonprofit theater sector is a bipartisan issue. “Sens. “John Cornyn and Amy Klobuchar came together to do great and important work with the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant,” Goyanes said.
“And there are Republicans who sit on theater boards and go to the theater regularly. So perhaps this old narrative goes back to the NEA culture wars [National Endowment for the Arts] being tossed around in the game of political football. Hopefully we can grow beyond this.”
The Professional Non-Profit Theater Coalition is launching the STAGE Act after other groups have crafted bills since the pandemic closures, such as the Creative Economy Revitalization Act — a grant program that sets priorities To get artists back to work – and the Promoting Local Arts and Creative Economy Workforce Act – a plan to do so strengthen the infrastructure of numerous creative industries – stalled in Congress.
The move comes as the country’s nonprofit theaters face a precarious post-pandemic landscape. Numerous institutions, including the Center Theater Group in LA, have done this reduced staff or paused programming to save money; Those that still put on shows are doing less per season and with shorter runs. as the New York Times reports. According to Greg Reiner, the director of drama and musical theater at the NEA, “We see two to three organizations closing every month.”
“A collapse of the nonprofit sector doesn’t just mean fewer theaters and fewer shows across the country; it also means less ambitious work, fewer risks taken, and smaller casts,” wrote critic and author Isaac Butler this summer in a New York Times editorial calls for an industry-wide rescue.
“The reverberations will be felt throughout the theater chain and a new generation of talent will be neglected. Like a bank failure, where a few failing institutions can bring down an entire system, the entire ecosystem of the American theater is at risk.”
record inflation, “Donor fatigue” And changed theater-going habits have led to further disruptions in the usual cash flow.
“Subscriber numbers are down and individual tickets are doing sporadically very well,” said Jennifer Bielstein, CEO of The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. “People definitely come to these spectacular shows. However, reliance on individual ticket sales is less predictable and more volatile, particularly for an organization trying to produce an interesting, resonant and representative collection of stories across a season.
“All of us as non-profits are also focused on offering affordable tickets to help people who find the cost of attending the theater a barrier,” she continued. “So if revenue goes down and Expenses continue to rise dramatically, we still have that gap and could use that investment. I am optimistic about the future because we are seeing the audience base rebuild, but we need more runways.”
Industry leaders argue that existing federal funds are no longer sufficient for the ongoing crisis. Although nonprofit theaters receive grants from the NEA, the relatively limited funds are distributed on a project-by-project basis and through a laborious application process.
Otherwise, “most initiatives to support struggling arts workers have been ad hoc and privately led,” wrote playwright Jeremy O. Harris in a 2021 Guardian commentary called for a strategy similar to the Federal Theater Project during the Great Depression. “We shouldn’t have to support an entire industry with GoFundMe, but we do.”
The options vary at the state level. Even in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed trailer bills to reallocate $11.5 million in unused arts funding, “it will take a long time for us to recover from the problems we have right now, and we will So do we.” “We need more than one-off support,” said Snehal Desai, artistic director of CTG a CVL Economics study It found that California has lost more than 150,000 live performance arts jobs since the pandemic.
“I don’t need instant success,” Eustis said. “But I need us as a field to make a concerted effort to stop asking for crumbs and see if we can make the case that what we do is central to the life of our communities – an argument we make every day represented in our work.”