B’way plays get big boost

NEW YORK — The plan proposed by the Broadway Initiative coalition for a $10 million grant and loan fund to make the production of Broadway plays economically feasible couldn’t come at a better time: Only one new play commercially produced on Broadway this season will have recouped its investment by the time the Tony Awards ring out the end of the theatrical year Sunday.

Even more distressing for drama lovers: The odds for Broadway success weren’t half-bad, given that only six new commercial plays were produced at all.

Even while Broadway receipts continue to increase — Daily Variety estimates that grosses will approach $500 million for the 1996-97 season, up from $436 million last year (an increase only slightly mitigated by the fact the latest season is a theatrical leap year with 53 weeks) — actually turning a profit remains an elusive goal. While the stakes might be higher for the costlier musicals, the commercially produced play is the genre most endangered.

The Initiative, a coalition of theater insiders working with city officials to develop a program of financial incentives for Broadway production, will officially unveil its plan in June, but a report leaked to the New York Times for an article published Thursday outlined the proposal. According to the Times, the $10 million fund of public and private money would be used for grants and loans, with $6 million earmarked for the transfer of new plays and small musicals from Off Broadway and regional theaters to Broadway. Approximately $3 million will go to programs designed to expand the theater audience, and $1 million for the improvement of theater buildings.

Among the plan’s goals would be the production of 25 new plays on Broadway over the next five years, a boost of theater attendance by 3,000 per day, and increases in theatergoing by New York area residents and students. The Times reported that the plan targets an increase of $50 million to $60 million in annual ticket sales.

Jack Goldstein, the Actors’ Equity Assn. exec spearheading the Initiative, declined comment on the plan but confirmed the accuracy of the Times article.

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