The Public Theater

Should The Government Bailout Regional Theater Companies?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The theater has been an integral part of American culture for centuries. It has entertained millions, inspired them, and helped reflect the societal changes that made the nation what it is today. However, in the wake of the pandemic, regional theater companies nationwide have been struggling to survive. While the government has bailed out industries like the airline and restaurant industries, regional theaters have been left out in the cold. In this article, we will discuss the need for a government bailout for theater companies nationwide and how the implosion of theater in America will impact major cities’ revenue.

The Public Theater

(The Public Theater. (2023, August 6). In Wikipedia.

It’s alarming for theaters everywhere.

Theater companies across America are facing dire financial situations. They are getting hit hardest with production cancellations due to the pandemic and reduced audience numbers. Layoffs are becoming rampant, and most theaters are not making enough to cover regular costs like rent, electricity, and other utilities. Some theaters are cutting down productions, while others have postponed for a year. These companies will become a distant memory if we don’t act fast.

Real financial data shows that the theater industry desperately needs a bailout. For instance, the Signature Theatre Company in New York said their income has fallen by 95% since the pandemic began. Similarly, the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco had to lay off almost half its staff due to financial strain. Other theaters face similar situations, and without government intervention, we may see many of these companies collapsing entirely.

Major theaters, major layoffs.

The Public Theater in New York City is a prime example of the difficulties regional theaters are facing. They recently laid off 65% of their staff and have reduced the number of plays they produce per season from nine to three. The Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles has also suffered immensely, with over 200 layoffs and five theater closures. This is down from their usual average of 200 yearly productions across all venues.

Without government intervention, the theater industry will collapse. This will lead to job losses, reduced tax revenue for the cities where these theaters are located, and an overall decline in cultural activities across America. Furthermore, millions of people who rely on these theaters for entertainment and inspiration will be left without options.

Center Theater Group in Los Angeles

(Mark Taper Forum. (2023, June 21). In Wikipedia.

Personal Impact: Stories from Those Affected

The toll on individuals is equally devastating. Tom, a veteran stage manager from New York, shared his distress, “The theater was my life and my livelihood. Now, I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to return to the work I love.” For the audience, like Sarah from Chicago, who said, “The theater was where I found community, inspiration, and joy. Its loss has left a void that can’t be filled.”

The stories coming from those affected by the pandemic have been heartbreaking. From actors, directors, and stagehands to ushers, lighting designers, and producers – all of whom have faced unprecedented financial hardship due to the abrupt closure of theaters nationwide.

Theater needs a bailout.

Regional theater companies nationwide require a bailout, similar to what was adopted during the Great Depression in the form of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). There are multiple reasons to consider this action, including providing employment to actors and other behind-the-scenes staff. Beyond that, it will give the artistic community a renewed interest in creating theater. This, in turn, will increase engagement with the community itself, provide an economic boost, and help foster creativity.

Multiple theater executives and leaders have been voicing their concerns about the dire times that the regional theaters are facing. For example, Tim Sanford, artistic director of Playwrights Horizons in New York City, stated that theater companies are “a national treasure, and they’ve given multiple generations of Americans some of the most transformative experiences in their lives. We need to ensure they’re still around to do that for generations to come.” Similar pleadings are coming from production houses across the country, with everyone agreeing that the government must bail them out.

(Marquee for Ah Wilderness! Rialto Theatre, Des Moines, Iowa, 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (060.00.00) Digital ID # ftp0060)

We Bailout Car Manufacturers and Airlines, so why not Theater?

The government bailout of the automobile industry in 2008 was an example of what can happen when a necessary influx of cash props up a sector of society. The industry experienced stability and profitability following the bailout, which created more jobs and increased tax revenues for cities and states nationwide. Similarly, the airline industry has also seen a resurgence after the government bailout in 2020, with airlines increasing their revenue and creating more jobs. The same could be said of the theater industry if the federal government extends a helping hand. Thus, we can see that regional theaters need assistance from the federal government to ensure they remain an integral part of American culture for years to come.

Alternative Solutions to Support Theaters

While government support is crucial, it’s not the only way to help theaters. Crowdfunding platforms have become a lifeline for some, raising millions to pay salaries and maintain buildings. Partnerships with local businesses can also alleviate some financial pressure, while innovative initiatives, like selling digital memberships or hosting online workshops, provide new revenue streams.

Remembering that the theater industry is far-reaching, employing not just actors and directors but also customers, carpenters, set designers, and more. Government bailouts can provide a much-needed lifeline in the short term, while alternative solutions can help keep theaters afloat in the long run. To ensure theater closures don’t blight our culture, now is the time to take action.

Addressing Potential Counterarguments

Some argue that a government bailout for theaters isn’t a priority. However, it’s important to remember that supporting the theater industry is not just about preserving a cultural institution; it also means ensuring the survival of a sector that contributes $877.8 billion to the U.S. economy and provides 4.5 million jobs. Furthermore, by investing in the theater industry now, we can save more money in the long run since it’s much cheaper to maintain jobs than to create new ones.

It’s also possible to argue that the theater industry will be able to survive without government bailouts. While this might be true, it’s important to understand that many theaters have already been forced to close due to a lack of financial support. By providing assistance now, we can give them a fighting chance and help ensure their closure doesn’t blight our culture.

Final act

The government has bailed out giants like the airline, car, and restaurant industries, but they have ignored the needs of regional theater companies. However, these companies are vital to our national identity and creative community. If we don’t rescue theater as we know it, it will implode and disappear forever. Therefore, we need a similar program like the WPA to help theater companies offset costs and ensure survival. Not taking immediate action might lead to the implosion of regional theaters and the end of a vital cultural industry in America. The time to act is now!

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