Monday, January 21, 2008

Denver Center and the Business of New Plays

The Denver Post has an article on how The Denver Center Theater is trying to lead the way with premiering American Plays. They will present three new works right alongside each other.

The financial risk is knee-wobbling. Thompson estimates it's one-third more expensive to produce a new play than an existing one. So last year, the Denver Center board expanded Thompson's budget by $1 million, to $11.9 million — and that's when he was staging only one new play, Jason Grote's thrilling "1001." This year, the figure will be $12.6 million.

"When you are working with unknown titles, your risk goes way up," said Denver Center chief financial officer Vicky Miles. "A few years ago, we wouldn't have been in a financial position to take that risk."
But a few years ago, Thompson wasn't artistic director, Daniel L. Ritchie wasn't chairman, and board member Jim Steinberg (of the Steinberg Trust) was not yet regarded as perhaps the single largest supporter of new-play development in America. He's personally committed $300,000 to the company over the past three years. And the Denver Center had not yet launched the Women's Voices Fund, which asked women to commit $5,000 each for new-play development. That initiative already has raised more than $650,000.

"We've been really lucky," said Thompson. "The support has been extraordinary."

The additional expenses only begin with paying writers to write. The playwright also must be present at design meetings, casting, rehearsals and performances. Marketing costs go up.

But no corners are being cut here. The DCTC has even taken on the extraordinary expense of bringing in (and putting up) two entire casts ("Lydia" and "Our House") that are new to the company.

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