Theatre is a Business

Say what!?

Show + Business = Show Business

It’s simple math as you can see above, but the business aspect is so often left out of the equation.

I know, I know, to the artistic mind it sounds like sacrilege. “Art is not a business! It’s a means of expression!” you might say. Believe me, I feel your pain. While watching Slings and Arrows some years back, when the Managing Director Richard huffs to the Artistic Director, “I wish you would think of this place as a place of business, because that’s what it is, you know. It’s a business.” No one disliked him more at that moment than I did.

Suddenly I’m older, I have a little more experience in art and business and I’m the Managing Director of a theatre company. I know, I didn’t see it coming either. On a side note, if you haven’t seen Slings and Arrows go find it and watch it now. You’re welcome.

Can’t We Just Make Art?

Sure, if that’s your job. Theatre isn’t always a business. You can get together with friends in a park, basement, wherever, and just “do a show.” There’s not much business there. But when you’ve incorporated, rent a storefront, produce a season, and (just maybe) pay people a little something, it’s a business. Let’s go back to being incorporated… that means that you’re legally a business.

The issue is the majority of the people starting these companies are solely artists, they created the business as an outlet for their art. Suddenly their job is to hire people, pay bills, advertise their shows, create a website, raise money. Are you starting to see a problem?

The job here is no longer just creating art, it’s running a business. If your job is just to create art, then you’re hired by a business to act, direct, write, draw, design, sculpt, etc.

What Should We Do About It?

I don’t think it’s a problem that needs solving, just a challenge that needs to be acknowledged. Some people thrive in the position of Producing Artistic Director, being in charge of the art and the business. Many don’t. Some groups have a large team of very talented artists working these business positions but without strong business leadership. Then they wonder why tickets aren’t sold.

If you find yourself in such a position, as so many of us are, and you’re passionate about what you’re doing, research what you need to do to make both business and art thrive. There’s no shame in looking elsewhere. Seek help from an accountant friend of a friend, find someone going to business school and get pointers.

Or you might not be in it for the long run. Perhaps the groups goal is just to be a bunch of artist friends that creates something for the experience, art for art’s sake. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Be clear about what your purpose is and pursue it to the fullest.

Which organizations do you feel do both great business and great art?