×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Intersection of Broadway and Non-Profits Boost Creative and Commercial Growth

Casual viewers of the June 12 Tony Awards might be forgiven for wondering if the Broadway-centric telecast represents the bastion of commercial theater in America, then why is one of the night’s trophies going to that standard bearer of federal funding, the National Endowment for the Arts?

The NEA’s special award is just one marker of the fact that ever since the regional-theater movement swept the country in the 1960s, the not-for-profit realm has had an increasing impact on the work that gets seen on Broadway — and beyond.

The numbers tell the story. A whopping 27 of this year’s Tony nominations went to work produced on Broadway by Roundabout (“She Loves Me,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Noises Off”) or originally produced Off Broadway by the company (“The Humans”). Twenty-two went to productions that originated at the Public Theater (“Hamilton,” “Eclipsed”). And the NEA takes home the trophy for its ongoing fiscal support of theater, totaling $331 million over its 50-year life span (including funds for both the Public and the Roundabout).

It’s also worth noting that the unprecedented diversity of the 2015-16 Broadway season, and the industrywide conversation that it’s fueled, chimes with the diversity initiatives that have been part of the Public Theater’s mission statement since it was founded in 1954. And “Dear Evan Hansen,” the buzzy Off Broadway musical set for a Broadway transfer this fall, has a book written by Steven Levenson, who got his start in the Roundabout Underground series of programming from rising artists.

“Broadway wouldn’t look like it does right now without the nonprofit,” says Greg Reiner, the NEA’s director of theater and musical theater.

Over the years, as New York nonprofits grew and organizations like the Roundabout, Manhattan Theater Club and Lincoln Center Theater claimed Broadway stages for their own, commercial producers grumbled. (“There’s no profit like nonprofit,” Gerald Schoenfeld, the late head of the Shubert Organization, used to say.) “It’s still a little contentious,” notes Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes.

But these days, the antagonism seems to have been superseded by the general consensus that the give-and-take between the two sectors is largely a good thing.

“The two parts of the ecosystem feed each other in different ways and can really fill in each other’s gaps in ways that benefit both,” says Jordan Roth, the head of Broadway’s Jujamcyn Theaters, which next season will produce a revival of the musical “Falsettos” in partnership with the nonprofit LCT.

Broadway and the nonprofit realm can intersect in a variety of ways. Sometimes a not-for-profit independently produces a work that a commercial producer then picks up for Broadway. Sometimes a producer will bring a project to a nonprofit to develop for a subsequent commercial run. And sometimes nonprofits produce directly on Broadway, as is the case with the Roundabout’s nominated productions of “Long Day’s Journey” (for which Ryan Murphy provided the rights to the play), “She Loves Me” and “Noises Off.”

Even many commercial producers agree that the nonprofit world, free of the commercial strictures that can curtail creative risk-taking, is often a better place to nurture new artists and new work. Oskar Eustis, the artistic director at the Public, likens the creative advantages to the ones enjoyed by HBO.

“Because of HBO’s business model, the goal is simply to elevate the brand,” he says. “That’s not a bad analogy for what we do in the nonprofit theater. Show to show, I don’t have to worry as much about how many tickets I’m going to sell. I have to worry about making shows that demonstrate to people that we’re a vital part of the culture.”
Similarly, if the Roundabout operated on ticket sales alone, its Underground program — showcasing unknown creators in a 60-seat black box at $20 a ticket — makes for an impossible equation. But it’s unquestionably been worth it: Underground kicked off in 2007 with “Speech & Debate,” the first play by Stephen Karam, who went on to become a Pulitzer finalist for “Sons of the Prophet” (also produced at Roundabout) and is now a Tony nominee for “The Humans.”

“The Underground is like 5% of our budget, but it’s kind of like 50% of our soul now,” Haimes says.

It’s the kind of only-at-a-nonprofit program that, these days, tends to yield the projects and artists that go on to commercial success — and sometimes make it to the Tonys.

More Legit

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “When I read a script, it processes in my head like a [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content