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The Business of The Stage

Updated: Apr 7

Theater is a twenty-billion dollar business worldwide and growing, and producing theatre is one of the most free-wheeling, diverse, and risky pursuits in the universe of capital investments. But the payoffs — direct and ancillary — can be enormous. We follow the players, their strategies, and their source of capital — from the new equity pools, to real estate interests, film, cable television, and multi-part alliances.



"Treason the Musical" has garnered over a million online streams globally and cultivated a dedicated fanbase called "Plotters" who share performances on platforms like TikTok. Unlike other musicals like "Beetlejuice" or "Dear Evan Hansen," "Treason" prioritized building an online following before staging a full production, now touring across Britain and set to perform at London's Palladium. Drawing parallels to "Six," another British success story, "Treason" retells the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 with folk ballads and pop-rock numbers, echoing the rise of "Six" from a student show to a West End sensation.

SOFT POWER Cultural hybridization has become a significant player in the global economy, and China has recently made notable moves towards the utilization of this “soft” power. The current value of China’s import and export of performing arts is 10:1. In an effort to improve export, companies like New Shanghai Circus started a joint venture with overseas companies and then set up its own company in America. Shanghai Heng Yuan Xiang Drama Development Company has recently signed a deal with Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment to mount the first open-ended run of a Chinese musical on Broadway. The question is: how effective is soft power and what impact does it have on the international perception of a nation?

APOLLO THEATER At the center of African American music and theater in NYC, The Apollo continues to pioneer diversity within the industry. Jonelle Procope, CEO & President of The Apollo Theater Foundation, revolutionized the theater back in 2000 with a new management team and a shift in the theater’s mission. Much more than a historic landmark, an embodiment of a culture integral to the city and another not-for-profit theater with strong female leadership, The Apollo is still lighting the way forward for similar establishments like The Uptown in Philadelphia where recently appointed director Linda Richardson has made it her life mission to raise the funds necessary to reopen the iconic venue.

BRITS ON BROADWAY What do Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and To Kill a Mockingbird have in common? Not only have they played the white way to sold out audiences in the last few years, they were also produced by British powerhouse Sonia Friedman. For years, Friedman and her company, Sonia Friedman Productions has championed London transfers to Broadway, from the all male Richard III/Twelfth Night to 1984. Recently there were two UK transfers (James Graham’s Ink and Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman) that came to Broadway via Sonia Friedman. With Friedman at the helm, is it possible that British theatre will soon monopolize Broadway?

BRANDING THE PUBLIC More powerful than a corporate logo, but just as brand-defining, an artist’s signature style can convey the appeal of a particular play while burnishing the identity of the producing organization. John Lahr looks at the art of Paul Davis and what his posters did for Joe Papp’s Public Theater. As Papp recognized, a talented artist can memorialize a production and the art of theater in the course of galvanizing a potential audience.

PARTNERING WITH PLAYWRIGHTS Famed for the risks she took in commercial theater, Liz McCann’s dedication to playwrights was notably reflected in her revitalization of Edward Albee’s career. In 1994 she convinced Albee that his new play Three Tall Women should be produced off-broadway first, free from the demands of Broadway commerce. It won the Pulitzer Prize, toured extensively and brought Albee back into the spotlight. McCann produced subsequent Albee plays, including The Goat, or Who is Sylvia on Broadway. McCann continued to work with innovative playwrights, recently producing Paula Vogel’s Indecent on Broadway. Liz McCann’s work demonstrates how crucial the role of a brilliant producer can be in a playwright’s career . We ask theater maker and producer Evangeline Morphos to write about the inspiration and the impact that Liz McCann continues to have on those who create theater, even after her passing in 2021.

INTERNET ACCESS Partnering with commercial producers as well as non-profits like The Public Theater and Second Stage, BroadwayHD records staged productions, such as Indecent on Broadway, and makes them available to download directly to your computer. With full streaming available on a subscription basis, BroadwayHD is becoming the “Netflix” of theater, presenting both original content and previous filmed works, from movie versions of plays to PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center series. Our resident producer looks into the returns on BroadwayHD’s investment, and considers what digitized performances mean for the future of live theater.


Whereas BroadwayHD allows you to watch when you want, with whom you want, London’s National Theatre promises the excitement of being part of a large audience watching a live performance of their current production. Inspired by the success of The Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD,” National Theatre Live broadcasts a limited selection of their critically acclaimed productions, like the slapstick comedy One Man, Two Guvnors to hundreds of venues across the globe. So far, the broadcasting has met great success and London’s Globe Theatre is now following suit. More to come.


One of the more anticipated shows of the Fall 2012 season, Rebecca had theatergoers and Broadway producers “dreaming of Manderly again.” Its appeal already demonstrated in its two year international tour, the smart money, including the Schubert organization, said “smash hit coming to Broadway.” But where was the smart money when leading producer Ben Sprecher, scrambling for the last 4.5 million, fell victim to a financial con-artist? Our resident business reporter and theater producer Daniel Okrent delves into the intricacies of Broadway funding and the ways in which producers can stumble.


Southern California’s La Jolla Playhouse has long been an incubator for new Broadway musicals, most recently Summer: The Donna Summer Musical and the Tony-nominated Come From Away. They also have a history of transfers to New York’s Public Theater, including the successful co-production of Hansol Jung‘s Wild Goose Dreams at the Public this past season. We ask famed former La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director, Des McAnuff to tell us how and why it’s become the first choice of so many talented theater makers and producers for developing their work.

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Wes Braver
Wes Braver
15. Aug. 2023

Will be fascinated to see what happens with Beijing theater companies interested in Broadway. Is there enough Chinese tourism to support them in New York?

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