Thursday, January 31, 2008

On Isaac's Post On Enhancement

Isaac wrote a good post on enhancement money a few days ago and tackles the question of its ethics, necessity, and effect on the nonprofit (and commercial) business models.

A few things on this.

Campbell Robertson's reporting aside, I have to report that this is hardly new. When I was sort of actively producing showcases in the mid- to late-1990s, I was after enhancement money all the time. And let me assure you that I was far from running the sort of (comparatively) well-heeled institutional nonprofit that commercial producers who provide enhancement money tend to work with. Though the trend is obviously growing.

Second, while I agree enhancement money is a symptom of a dysfunctional market (and "games the system"), I don't think there's anything wrong with it IF the theatre was going to produce the show in any event, IF it needed the cash infusion to make the piece happen, and IF the nonprofit in question is able to negotiate the kind of deal that monetizes its contributions to the process fairly and equitably. That is to say that if nonprofits, as Isaac suggests, negotiate crappy deals, that's wrong. There ought to be best practices, perhaps even publicly available, for those nonprofits that engage in accepting enhancement money -- maybe there already are. I don't know. That would require some research.

Third, I don't think it violates the nonprofit spirit if -- again -- the ifs above are addressed. The problem is, it's impossible to know an artistic director's motivation. I don't want to name names, but I can't tell you how many artistic directors I've interviewed and asked about programming choices, and how many have never copped to what Isaac is suggesting. Nor will they, and why would they? Some companies may have their backs to the wall; some may be opportunists. Some may be genuinely desirious of getting the piece in question on its feet. It's so hard to tell.

Fourth, Isaac's point about how enhancement money explodes budgets is right on. I think the League of Independent Theatres should probably take up this point because inappropriate compensation for artists is probably rampant.

Anyway, good post.

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