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Nonprofit Theater Lives Up To Its Name

June 14, 1986|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Last week's financial report on the 1985-86 Broadway season wasn't too encouraging. American resident theater didn't have a blue-ribbon year either, according to Theatre Communications Group.

Considered as a whole, the nation's 220-odd nonprofit theaters ended up, indeed, without a profit. Total income was roughly $234.7 million. Total outlay was $239.3 million. Total deficit was $4.6 million.

On the other hand, there was good news. Total attendance was up to a five-year high of 14.2 million, a marked contrast to Broadway's declining audience (under 7 million last year.) More than 2,700 separate productions were seen (compared with 30-odd on Broadway).

Ticket prices remained affordable, averaging somewhere between $10 and $15 (Broadway's is just under $30). Subscriptions were up, and the private sector was contributing more to support the nonprofit theaters than in the early 1980s.

On balance, TCG's annual report was cautionary, stressing the razor's-edge aspect of resident theater economics. The Mark Taper Forum's Bill Wingate forecast "painful" readjustments in the next few years, as more and more theaters either consolidate or go under.

Everywhere you look, it's the Royal Shakespeare Company. The RSC is touring "Nicholas Nickleby" in Los Angeles and "Richard III" in Australia. In London its production of "Les Miserables" continues on the West End, along with an ongoing mix of new plays and classics at the Barbican Theatre. And in Stratford-Upon-Avon the RSC offers its usual summer rep of Shakespeare, topped by Jeremy Irons in "The Winter's Tale."

Stratford has a new look this year. An anonymous American millionaire has funded the construction of an adjunct RSC theater, the Swan, patterned after the courtyard theaters of the Elizabethans. This summer's repertory includes such exotica as "Two Noble Kinsmen" (by John Beaumont, with additional dialogue, perhaps, by William Shakespeare) and "The Rover" (by Aphra Benn, the first female English playwright).

An RSC anxiety, shared by the rest of the English theater: Will the American tourists show up this summer?

The Bardovan Players of Wynchnor, England, also have a worry to air. Like the RSC they do a summer season of Shakespeare. Unfortunately they are located next to the pig farm of A. W. and R. M. Mercer, who have plans to expand their operation. The odor from this expansion could cause problems for the Bardovan's audience.

East Staffordshire planning officer Bob Makin says that the expanded pig farm doesn't conflict with sound local planning. We smell trouble.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. A cartoon in the Guardian. "If President Reagan has made the world safe for America, why are the Americans all canceling their reservations?"

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