Why don’t I rate for that rate?

Spoiler alert:  If you work at or run a non-profit, I’ll bet you your endowment, you’re not going to like this post.

Yesterday I put in a call to a vendor I have not worked with before to ask for some rates for their services for a developing musical I’m working on (this one is probably two years away from even announcing here, never mind being seen on a stage).

I expressed a little concern over the amount I was quoted and the salesperson then said, “Well, this is for a commercial production, right?  If you’re a non-profit, I could give you our non-profit rate.”  (That rate was about 15% less.)

If I was a cartoon, steam would have come out of my ears and my face would have turned as red as a pair of Kinky Boots. (That is what we call in the biz a shameless plug, btw.)

Everyone knows how risky producing on Broadway is, right?  Only 25-30% of shows make money, but we get charged more?  Just because of our tax status?  Non-profits try to make money too, you know, they just put it back into their institution.

Well, guess what most Broadway Producers and Broadway Investors do?  Yep, they put it right back in as well.  And then some!

Additionally, big non-profits are almost guaranteed to be here for years and years, if not decades.  Broadway Producers and their shows are just trying to get through to next week, next month, and if they’re lucky and hit a juggernaut they’re around for a long time.  But Phantom of the Opera is still younger than the big NPs in town.

But still “For Profits” get charged more? Yet we don’t get grants or donations and such, not to mention artists working for a lot less than their  market rate?

One argument I’ve heard is, “Well non-profit is where the “art” is done – and so many important shows wouldn’t happen if NPs were given some favorable status.”  True, sort of.  See, plenty of important arts shows from Angels in America to Clybourne Park were given a wider audience because of their commercial production.  Don’t they deserve a break for taking that risk?  Especially if the vendors are admitting by even having a non-profit rate, that they can survive on those numbers.

Now, I know all you people that work for small struggling non-profits want to punch me right square in the blog because you need those rates to get by, right?

Well, I agree.  101%.

Despite this semi-rant, I’m not proposing we do away with Non Profit rates.  I’m proposing that, oh I don’t know, maybe there should be a sliding scale of Non Profit Rates.  Or maybe if your NP has only been in existence for 3 years or less, then you get the rate.  Or if your budget is less than X dollars, then you get the rate.  I’d have no problem with someone charging me more than someone charging a brand new company that’s producing new American plays by unknown playwrights in 99 seat theaters. (In fact, I’ll donate $100 to the first theater company that fits that description that comments on this entry.)

But granting companies blanket Non Profit rates, when lots of us are struggling to make our bottom lines black and are contributing just as much to the art and the economy, just doesn’t make “cents.”

That’s why I refused to use the vendor I called unless they gave me their NP rate.  Which they did.  🙂


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  • Geoffrey says:

    As either a non-profit or commercial producer you win some (having your show run virtually rent free at new world stages) and you lose some. All about the negotiations not the status.

  • Yosi Merves says:

    I know a group that fits this description: Nylon Fusion Collective (http://www.nylonfusioncollective.org), a young company, is producing a new play, “Incendiary Agents” by Jack Karp at the New Ohio Theatre March 1-24. They definitely benefit from non-profit rates from vendors for lighting, venue rental, etc.

  • I understand and agree with your idea of a sliding scale. And I also wish to throw my hat in the right for that $100 donation. My company is just over 8-months old, and we’re producing a revival of Wine in the Wilderness by Alice Childress. American Author, and a work that hasn’t really been done in this city in a very long time. Not new work, but underdone, underappreciated work.

    You can donate here, if you wish: http://bit.ly/TSeIcR. There are risks in telling existing stories for a new company too.

  • Billy-Christopher Maupin says:

    Ooh…so much juicy stuff in this post.

    Oh…new show, being produced by a recently ousted artistic director, essentially starting a new venture (but hopefully returning to the theatre she founded soon:)

    (And donations are tax-deductible, through our fiscal agent!)

    And it’s a musical about breast cancer!

    Check it out!

    (Plugging so hard today and I really just came her to grab a link to that Book or Mormon post to share with a business.)

  • mca says:

    Shameless plug for the NP I work or rather volunteer for…
    Arts on the Horizon out of VA (DC metro area) not only is this theatre company producing new works by unknown playwrights,they are producing these shows for children, with audiences of 80 and under, while at the same time trying to keep the cost of the tickets under $10.

  • Indeed the Nerve Tank hopes to see your $100 donation for producing new work in small spaces. I work in both spheres and as an artist, producer and so on. In truth I’d like all of it to level off. What I would really like is for everyone to make bank, and pay retail for services making this business a job-creation effort all around.

  • Darren says:

    As a director of a nonprofit, I agree with you. Good for you for “negotiating” the lower rate.

  • Patrick says:

    Shots in the Dark Independent Theatre Company produces new work in and around Columbus, OH.

  • Suzan Eraslan says:

    Sure, big nonprofits like Roundabout and the Public put the money back in the institution… or just get rid of it by paying their executives guaranteed 6 figure salaries.

  • Rich says:

    Yes, a vendor offering lower rates to NFP’s for comparable theatrical services rendered seems very unfair. However, you must ask how this reduction stands to impact vendors’ own tax rates? Is their motivation completely altruistic, or maybe it is the tax law itself that needs changing, to provide greater balance?

  • Ken,

    One example of a non-profit that really makes a lot of money for Broadway is Todd Haimes’ Roundabout. I am a shareholder in the musical 1776 and when Todd and Director Scott Ellis did a revival in 1997 the Roundabout wasn’t a Broadway entity (technically speaking). Look at what they have done. After partnering with the Dodgers in ’98 to move 1776 to the Gershwin I think the line between profit & non-profit got blurred and for the better. 42n street will never be the same after what Todd has done (and company). So there really aren’t any rules or generalizations…

  • “That’s why I refused to use the vendor I called unless they gave me their NP rate.”

    That’s my favorite part about NFP rates – once I know they have one, I know I’m being overcharged I can negotiate down to at least that amount!

  • Terrence Cranert says:

    You are right to be irate that you don’t rate for that rate. If te NPs had to make a profit they might actually produce more shows with the ability to attract an audience instead of some of the drivel that passes for art.

  • I do have one more comment – since all the weekly gross’ on Broadway are made public, perhaps publishing the “numbers” for non-profit productions would drive home the facts. That includes salaries for NP exec’s, grosses, etc. How can we compare profit and non-profit without discussing where the money comes from, where it goes, and what the differences are between the two; my take on Ken’s original post is that the “profit’s” don’t pull in as much money as we think, and, the “non-profit’s” make more money for the principle’s than we think. I would like to see facts and figures to compare. Only because I think Ken has brought attention to a very important aspect of the business of theater. Thanks Ken.


    to quote Bernie Jacobs “There’s no profit like non-profit”. I think that says it all!
    Bruce Lazarus
    Executive Director
    Samuel French Inc.

  • Stephen Buckle says:

    Looking through Ken’s archive dated 20th March 2008 and reading this entry supports my long held belief that nearly all theatre is non-profit. Well, the stat’s prove that without doubt so time the industry stopped living in denial. The main difference is the way a show get capitalised. In England the non-profit sector uses fundraisers and applies to the Arts Council for funding. The commercial producers go to their investors and Angels; simply faster and more efficient – less bureaucrats in the middle. That’s Commerce v. Quangos!

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