As bunker busters blast Afghanistan, downtown New York City companies relocate and rebuild, and Broadway grosses rise to levels not far below where they were on Sept. 11, Theatre Development Fund is taking extra steps to ensure that Broadway continues to rebound. After all, currently-running shows may have suffered some missed performances and sluggish sales, but it's the productions that hope to come to Broadway and Off in the years ahead that are being hit by investor skittishness, the volatile stock market, the travel slump and an underlying worry that New York hasn't seen the last of terrorist activity.
All that prompted TDF chairman John Breglio to develope a legislative plan to make New York theatre a more attractive investment. "The proposal is based on a simple premise," Breglio told Playbill On-Line (Oct. 12). "It's based on the number of employees you hire for a show and the total amount per week spent on labor costs. It's very complicated, and there are lots of limits and caps, but you can get upwards of a 20 percent tax credit on your labor costs. That credit gets passed on to the producer who passes it on to the investors. At the end of the day, that turns out to be approximately 10 percent of the cost of the production. So, for example, if production costs 10 million, you should be able to pass on to investors a $1 million tax credit. That is, if I put up a million dollars, I get 10 percent of that credit — $100,000 — off my taxes."
Breglio stressed that a tax credit is different from — and in many ways better than — a tax deduction. "A deduction is a subtraction made before you come up with your taxes. A credit is taken after you figure out your taxes," Breglio said. "Credit is much more valuable. It's an absolute reduction from the tax you owe."
"Ultimately," said Breglio, "it's a bill to encourage employment. The more people you employ and the more shows you produce, the more [tax] credits become available. Also, the bill is based on the amount of employees you hire and what you spend on them. You get approximately a 20 percent credit based on those wages (with limits), which means on average, you should be able to take a credit of approximately 10 percent of your investment in the show. But let's be clear that this credit will not apply to mega-hits. This is not meant to give a tax bonanza to an investor in the next `Producers.' So if the show does not recoup, the producer gets something back for his risk."
Breglio noted that the idea is based on a similar bill already on the books to help the inner cities. "It's a tax initiative based on `empowerment zones,'" he said. "It was done to encourage hiring in those areas, and the same theory holds true for legitimate theatre. We are an empowerment zone now. We're a tiny, tiny, tiny little business in terms of numbers and the GNP. However, what Broadway and Off-Broadway represent to New York City and the world is as important as anything else New York has to offer. What we represent as a cultural symbol is enormous. So the industry has to help itself right now. We don't want a handout for the government (although it would be great!) like the airline industry. That would be unrealistic. This is a modest bill to encourage investors to believe in the theatre." As reported in the New York Times, the proposed bill also suggests offering limited-run productions of shows that feature big stars and are specifically geared to bring dollars to Broadway. "The plan," Breglio told PBOL, "is to do at least once a year a limited engagement (3 months, say). We cast a wonderful star or two, and everyone would work at minimums. We're confident we'd sell out very well. Then all the proceeds — likely a couple million or more — would go to a relief fund to continue this work. It would also be a great yearly celebration of the theatre giving to itself in an across-the-board fund to help theatre business in New York, especially in cases in which theatre business faces crises. We have never had the ability to help shows that had temporary hardships.
"The fund might also go toward creating across-the-board institutional databases, winter campaigns to sell tickets during slow periods, and helping the industry address new ideas and ways of doing business. Currently, we are so dominated by foreign and domestic tourism. After the September 11th attacks, we found out just how much we rely on tourism. It's New York audiences that should be the mainstay, and we've lost that in the last 10 years or so."
The fund, Breglio says, would also put money toward "a very substantial subsidy program that would go to buy tickets in early stages of a show to get people in the seats during previews. TDF does that now, but we want to make the program that much more ambitious, with much more subsidy for new plays. If the show's good it'll run, if not, it'll close by its own forces." Breglio had no comment, however, on rumors that Al Pacino and Gwyneth Paltrow were among the high-profile actors likely to be approached for these special engagements. He did confirm that his federal tax relief plan is being endorsed by Democratic Senator Charles E. Schumer and Representative Charles B. Rangel, with Congress likely to weigh in on the legislation within the next three months.
Why the emergency scrambling? Breglio told the Times, "...right now the easy thing to say [to investors] is, Come back in six months. But we can't do that. That's an entire season for us."
-- By David Lefkowitz