Or, Why do people pay to be in our shows?
It’s unusual that adults have to pay to be in a show. Sure, there are community theaters that have nominal dues for their members. But actual tuition to be in a show? It’s not very common.
Real talk: We’re not a theater company. We’re an adult recreation company. I used to play softball through a recreational league. In 2019 I paid $220 to play twelve games plus a championship game (because we were that good). We got our own shirts made, at our expense, and supplied our own equipment for the games – bats, bases, balls, sneakers/cleats. We were pretty good, but definitely did it mostly for fun, and it was a tradition to grab a drink after the game. I even ran into Carol Baird (an AWT Participant) once at the bar afterward.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The money we paid to the league presumably went to field permits, paying the umpires, and company operational expenses. So where does AWT’s income from our programs get used in our organization? Let’s use one of our most common and lucrative program types as a case study.
We charge $650 to be in a Mainstage Musical, with Pay What You Can options of $600 and $550. There are monthly plan options to spread out payments over time. And we also offer Financial Assistance for further tuition relief, up to 100%. Compared to the twelve 90 minute games plus the scrapes, bruises, and probably one undiagnosed concussion for $220, it’s not a bad deal.
In addition to tuition, we sell tickets to see the shows! A ticket to one of our musicals is $33.99.
Ok, now for the fun part. It’s Math time!
Let’s start with tuition. I budget for 50% of registrations to be at the full price, 35% at $600, 10% at $550 and 5% receiving Financial Assistance. I also budget for 90% of the 80 spots to be filled. This comes out to an expected revenue from registrations to be $40,725.
Tickets! A little more straightforward. We have 10 performances and usually a ballpark of 120 seats in the house. I budget for 90% to be sold, so ticket revenue is budgeted to be $36,709.
(Pre-pan, we used to exceed these numbers no problem. These days, we still hit the registration number most of the time, but ticket sales have been struggling. Our last Mainstage Musical was about 73% sold for tickets.)
So our expected income for the shows is $77,434. That’s a really nice chunk of change if we meet our goals! So now, where does it go?
Just like the softball league, the money goes toward people, space and operational costs. Additionally it goes toward show rights and other materials for sound, lights, costumes, props and sets. Also acknowledging that, just like the softball league, our participants provide a lot of their own costumes and props. And in trying to employ greener practices, we try to borrow and thrift as much as possible. Let’s see more detail on the expenses!
People: for a musical, we hire a Director, Music Director and Stage Manager. And most of the time, we also hire a Choreographer and sometimes hire an Associate or Assistant to help and/or learn from any of the aforementioned people. We also hire a professional Sound Designer and Engineer. Our approach to the rest of the design of the show is to be more community oriented than in the past, and so we hire coordinators to handle sets, props, costumes and lights. And then when the shows are performed, we hire musicians to play in the orchestra and a photographer to snap photos. Other people who get paid are an accompanist who plays during Launch Day, and any load in or other production labor we need to hire. All of these people’s fees total $18,775.
So now subtracting that from the budgeted income, we’re at $58,659.
Space: We rent studios and theaters for our rehearsals and performances, and let’s just say space in NYC isn’t cheap. Our total budget for space for one performance is $16,250. Occasionally we can save on rehearsal space due to partnerships or subsidy programs, but we also sometimes have to use theaters that are a little over budget for us (by a few thousand dollars). Let’s call it a wash for the purposes of this exercise.
Now we’re at $42,409
Show rights: Our budget for one license for a musical is $7,000. It’s often less than that but sometimes it is more. Depends on the title.
Materials budget: $2,050
Tuition discounts: Meaning if someone uses some kind of credit to partially pay tuition. This is budgeted at $4,000.
Miscellaneous expenses including van rentals or cars during load in/out, food for when we want to feed our creative team during their marathon casting session, and other unplanned expenses total $1,650.
So now we are left with a surplus of $27,709 which is still very nice.
Oh wait, I forgot one thing. That income is also subjected to credit card processing fees. So for the $77,434 in tuition and ticket sales, approximately $2,200 will be deducted.
Just like I assume the softball league has people in their offices to pay, and probably lots of insurance and other administrative costs, we too have a small but mighty team of people and our own insurance policies (so many!), accountants, a web developer, equipment storage, and a host of subscriptions and dues to pay. Sometimes our equipment breaks and we have to replace it, so there’s a small contingency fund to deal with unplanned expenses. It’s nearly impossible to divide this up by every show we produce, but for a whole year, these operational costs total $221,849.
Go ahead and assume that the surplus for the musical just turned into a deficit.
In order to break even on our entire annual budget, we rely heavily on income from donations and grants. Our budget for the year for donations is $82,359.
So, in case you’re curious why we charge tuition, and why it can’t be lowered – here you go. That being said, I understand cost is a barrier, and it’s important to me that people have access to these programs. I did not raise tuition costs this fiscal year, and I’m committed to limiting tuition increases as much as possible – but they will have to happen occasionally as every single cost I’ve laid out gets increased every year. I’m also committed to Pay What You Can and Financial Assistance being a permanent fixture for our organization, unless some better plan for all comes to light.
So that’s it. I hope this is helpful in understanding how the economics of our organization work.