In Us We Trust

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Here’s a guest post from Brad Burgess, executive producer and associate artistic director of The Living Theater.

Seventy theatre companies, and growing, have committed to donating five cents for every ticket they sell in order to create a common fund intended to strengthen the independent theater sector.

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LIT FUND LOGOThis effort is called The LIT Fund.

For 6 years, I’ve worked with one of the founders of the Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway movements that make up our community of independent theater artists.

That has granted me the privilege of serving on the board of this fund made by theaters for theaters.

I grew up as a baseball fan in Boston. As a washed up Little Leaguer, with a soft spot for the underdog, I’ve found my post-career home in the independent theater world of New York City.

Let’s learn from baseball, which for all intents and purposes is a kind of theatre itself.

In baseball there is an agreement that if your player payroll is beyond a certain amount, you begin to pay a luxury tax into a common fund that is shared amongst the less wealthy teams. This is so that those teams can remain active and competitive and baseball can survive and thrive as an industry. The Yankees, the team with the highest payroll and tax, have built a billion dollar stadium in the luxury tax era, even after giving tens of millions of dollars every year to revenue sharing for a decade.

They’ve won a World Series.

There are no complaints about the tax.

Where does Broadway find its players? It’s common sense, though not common knowledge, that people come from the indie theatre world. Al Pacino started his career cleaning bathrooms with Martin Sheen at The Living Theatre in the 1950’s. Also, on a deeper level, the indie theatre sector reinvents the game we are all playing with new ideas, forms, technologies and studies. It develops the community of theatre artists in many ways.

For me, baseball is important in understanding this because it’s easier for people who do the money thing to understand. It’s a modern industry with modern price tags and salaries. It’s a nationally popular industry on TV. It’s a success. They use this strategy of self tax and revenue sharing, so it’s not some crazy idea.

People also latch on to sports in the face of tragedy. The city of Boston, in the wake of the recent killings there, came back to life when David Ortiz said, “This is our f*ing city!” They were together; they were dealing with pain, emotional, psychological, societal problems.

Sound familiar? That’s exactly what theatre does, and in fact is almost exclusively its purpose.

Since the goal of theatre is, and has been since Thespis spoke to the chorus 2000 years ago: to confront, cope with, and resolve the issues of the community in the face of class problems and political problems…every nickel collected by this fund will contribute towards a necessary part of this overall communal effort.

The money that comes has also founded an Urgency Fund and a permanent endowment fund for Independent Theater. Right now, the funds are modestly coming in.

But Broadway sells twelve million tickets per year, and at 5 cents, they would actually be taxing themselves at a lower rate than the 70 companies already involved. However, if they match this 5 cent contribution (which even in 2000 seat house is $100 per night, or less than one ticket…) they will contribute $600,000 to the independent theatre sector annually.

But we must grow ourselves first before we can count on that. We must find ways to increase the money in the fund so we can begin to accomplish our goals and display our collective strength.

One way we are doing this is by throwing a party on July 28th at Duplex on 61 Christopher Street. If you care about any of this and are available and have $15, come drink with us and celebrate this fund and its aims and vision.

We must band together in the indie theatre community, and commit to each other. If we do, Broadway will want to further recognize its being a part of us. Maybe we can inspire the arts community at large, who knows, its worth trying. This city belongs to the artists, theatre or otherwise.

New York City is our f*ing city.

In us we trust.