Is Cooperation the Answer to Profitable Theatre Companies?

The last two years in the arts scene here in Vancouver have been a struggle. In August of 2009, the Provincial government brought down some wide-sweeping cuts to Non-Profit and Arts organizations.

We protested. We fought back. There was an election.

Now, nearly two years later, funding has not been restored to the levels that it was then. Companies are going out of business, and I’m seeing more and more companies hurting, unable to produce the kinds of seasons they were before.

One trend I’ve noticed a lot lately is companies partnering together to create shows. This helps to spread the costs between two companies, and hopefully the profit as well.

I was struck by this recent blog post by Brett Fisher on The Graziadio Voice recently:

I returned to school in 2008 to pursue an MBA after being laid off from a job working in middle management for a non-profit, live theatre company.  The non-profit had two products: tickets and donations.  One product became less popular in 2007; donations. No new products were in the pipeline.  An update for those not familiar with some non-profit performing arts models: it’s backward, and not sustainable.  The cost to produce the product (tickets to shows) far exceeds the amount that can be charged to the customer.  These firms must sell below cost to stimulate demand.  So how do they make up the difference?  The old model was to ask for donations, because the incentive to give was rewarded by a tax deduction. This we find out presents sustainability issues to the firm when one product becomes less popular.   MORE

The truth is, the cuts to the arts, while tragic and unfair, also are pushing us to think outside the box: how can we still continue to create work in the light of severely diminished funding?

Fisher suggests cooperation is the way to go, and while I love the idea, I think there are also other ways that we can make our theatre businesses more profitable and less dependent upon gaming, the government, or donations.

I’d love to hear how you or some of the folks you work with are coping.

UPDATE: I had just hit “publish” on this post when I noticed this post by Amy Wratchford over on 2amt, and I thought it was important enough to add.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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