Danny Newman, Influential Advocate of Theatrical Subscriptions, Dead at 88

Obituaries   Danny Newman, Influential Advocate of Theatrical Subscriptions, Dead at 88
Danny Newman, a legendary and influential arts promoter and a longtime press agent of Lyric Opera of Chicago, died Dec. 1 at his home in Lincolnwood, IL, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Mr. Newman is credited with revolutionizing the way performing arts organizations get theatregoers into seats — through subscriptions. He was 88, and the cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis, according to his wife, Alyce.

He is cited as the single figure responsible for the now ubiquitous practice of subscription series in not-for-profit opera, classical, dance and theatre seasons across the U.S. According to the Tribune, he helped launch subscription campaigns at more than 500 arts organizations around the world.

Students aiming for a career in arts management view his 1977 book, "Subscribe Now!," as a kind of bible. It has reportedly appeared in 10 editions and is sold in 31 countries.

William Mason, Lyric Opera's general director, told the Tribune, "Without him, who knows whether there would be a Lyric Opera, and who knows whether there would be a lot of arts organizations in this country. He was one of the greatest arts patrons of the last half-century. What he did to help theatre companies, symphonies, ballets and opera companies across the U.S. and Canada build a sound financial base was incalculable."

Goodman Theatre executive director Roche Schulfer has long respected Mr. Newman's philosophies about arts marketing and subscriptions. He said in a statement, "Danny was the godfather, the founder of the feast. He invented the method that allowed theatres to prosper across the country." Marcelle McVay, managing director of Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, told Playbill.com, "Shortly after the founding of the theatre, Victory Gardens mounted its first subscription campaign in 1975. We contacted Danny Newman for help. He was an evangelist for the concept of the 'saintly subscriber,' and we eagerly followed his lead. When Danny's book 'Subscribe Now!' was published, we devoured it. Today, having opened a new space at the Biograph and created a residency program for theatre companies at The Greenhouse, we continue to see the impact of Danny's legacy on theatre companies both large and small."

Anthony Rhine, assistant chair of the theatre management program at Wayne State University, which operates the respected Hilberry Repertory Theatre in Detroit, told Playbill.com, "I was sorry to hear of Newman's passing, because a copy of 'Subscribe Now!' sits dog-eared on every bookshelf I have. It is the cornerstone of our marketing pedagogy at Wayne's Theatre Management MFA, and required reading for anyone entering the program. His theories continue to help us develop marketing strategies for the future. In the early '90s, Newman helped to increase the Hilberry Theatre subscribership substantially, and understanding why Newman said what he did helps our graduates go straight from college into executive level positions."

The bottom line: He built audiences.

Mr. Newman, who called himself a press agent, retired as Lyric Opera's public-relations counsel. He had been with the organization's administrative staff from the beginning — since 1954, when the troupe was founded as Lyric Theatre of Chicago. He launched the company's first subscription campaign in 1955. His work was cut out for him, as he had 3,500 seats to fill at the Civic Opera House.

Lyric Opera's current subscribership is reportedly more than 33,000.

Mr. Newman was a publicist since his teenage years, when he banged the drum for vaudeville acts.

After serving in World War II, where he was wounded twice, he returned to Chicago and would end up changing the fortunes of theatres around the globe. He married his first wife, actress Dina Halpern, in 1948. She died in 1989.

In 2006 he penned a lively showbiz book, "Tales of a Theatrical Guru," published by the University of Illinois Press.

Lyric Opera's box office is named for him.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Newman is survived by stepsons Paul Andre Katz and Leonard Katz.

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