The Role of Theatre

Theatre Business


I am a United States Actor.  Having looked at both the artistic and business sides of the theatre, I have found some disatisfactory aspects to the field, especially in regards to how business coalesces with art.  I’ll put forth some positive (how it is) and normative (how I want it to be) statements here, mostly on the nomothetic (grand scheme) level.

Business Issues:



Pro: Introduces non-theatre people into a theatre setting, opening doors for people of all ages and potentially increasing the size of the industry.  Brings theatre to a community on its own terms.

Con: Has to appeal to the demands of an audience base, limiting show selection and artistic growth in favor of attendance.  Brings in volunteers at most levels and becomes, all in all, a social activity.


Should allow for newer works by local artists as part of the community feel.  While it favors larger cast shows, it should also work with local schools (academic or extracurricular) to create a more creative, lively, community-linking season, not only on the social level, but also on the business level.



Pro: Educates younger people as to the practicalities of theatre, allowing for various outlets for creativity.  Provides a setting where process is more important than product, and various processes can be studied.  Depending on the setting, it may allow for a broad variety of disciplines to be learned, or for intense technical training.

Con: Very few performances in this setting mean that the ‘product’ quickly ends the work, resulting in a short ‘buzz’ for performers, and an unrealistic expectation of repeated performances before a crowd, especially if students are looking to go into the commercial theatre sector.  At the College level, creativity on the technical side can be limited in favor of practical training, as can performing.  Limited by the teacher’s ability to teach at all levels, especially high school, where one instructor often has to teach all of ‘theatre,’ a massive amalgamative concept.


Should link with local theatres for various credit ‘internships’ and ‘work study’ programs, increasing a tie to the community and allowing students to learn from professionals at most levels.  If no theatre exists in the area, the school should involve itself in a summer/winter/fall break/spring break/ week off study intensive, where students focusing in theatre get proper training outside their academic area.  In addition, programs with little funding for theatre should allow students to put on their own productions, with their own money, including fundraising aspects and advertising for performances.  This would better train students for real world experience and give them fairly reliable theatrical training regardless of the strength or weakness of faculty.  At the college level, theatre classes and productions should be tied into various feilds of study so that all students can learn more about the theatre tangentially, and so that students focused in the theatre can keep their focus while learning about more areas.



Pro: A non-for-profit means of getting shows set up for a community with an overall theme that works for the community.  Higher production values, many touring shows and acts bring in a variety of performers.  Allows for loner runs of shows, works with touring groups.  Second stages/seasons provide more creative outlets while mainstages take on more popular works.  Often tie in outreach and educational programs in order to give back.

Con: Creativity is limited by audience demands, season subscribers have a hold on what can and cannot be performed, often at the risk of reducing artistic value.  Not-for-profit status often limits actor’s pay and hiring, working with unions as opposed to freelancers, requires much of their designers.  Not an educational setting, mostly about product.  The exception is in the area of education the organization chooses to present.  However, productions do not involve an educational mindset.


Productions, especially at the second season level, should focus on educational aspects.  Tiered pay scales for performers and designers can relate to their level of skill and growth within a group: Regional Theatres should budget for a ‘troupe’ of both designers and actors with enough pay to sustain comfortable livelihood while still being a competitive process, encouraging growth rather than stagnation.  On the mainstage level, productions should focus on variety, not only of venue, but of message.  Progressive and Conservative arguments should be presented to audiences, and regional theatres should aim not only to entertain, but to inspire creative thought and discussion.



Pro: Long runs, large budgets, potential increase of pay for more skilled workers and excellent benefits for first-show teams, tied to residuals and other rights.  Excellent production values.  Demand does not tie to local area demand limit, but to fundraising, advertising, and refining of a product, and reviews.  Encourages connections between regional and commercial theatres, either to develop a show until it gets to the commercial sector to take a show to tour after a run in the commercial sector.

Con: Shows often lack creativity, favoring large dance numbers, huge spectacle pieces, songs and thoughtless drama or comedy.  There are exceptions, though they are rare.  Highly values entertainment above education.  Really only located in New York.  Very expensive.

Normative: Should allow a more creative process in a larger sector.  Commercial properties should not be limited to one population center, rather, they should exist all over, using skilled fundraising to keep creative artworks flowing and allowing artists to focus on their craft (with decent pay and benefits).

Overall Normative: Educational Theatre in America needs better Business Management.  Students should learn through theatre how to operate their own companies, to encourage a more competitive industry as time goes on.  The commercial and regional theatre sectors are the best managed aspects, business-wise, but their are other outlets for entrepreneurial endeavors.  I don’t see why commercial theatre can’t work in other sectors, besides the heavy issue of tax.  People with enough business experience in networking, fundraising, and advertising, and managing, should be able to make a viable theatre almost anywhere.  That being said, I highly respect regional and not-for-profit theatre, but the limitations of a public company as being tied to government regulations and aided funding gives theatre a certain limit.  Historically, troupes were sponsored by a patron (which could include a state).  Perhaps this needs a revival today: wealthy backers acting as patrons for smaller commercial troupes around the country, encouraging progressive artistic modes and working to increase cultural awareness and progression.

Links to resources in the theatre:

The most reliable business site that I know of is the Theatre Communications Group, a communication organization linking various not-for-profit professional theatres. I highly recommend any theatre businessperson looking over their Tools and Research section.

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