The Money Keeps Rolling In

People often ask me after a show closes if it made any money. I almost always stifle the impulse to laugh.

None of our shows make money, folks. Okay, that's not entirely true. I think two shows in our 21-year history have made money.

People are always so surprised to hear that, but that's the nonprofit model. If New Line had to raise ticket prices to actually cover the costs of production, our tickets would be about $40 right now instead of $20, and we would price half our audience out overnight. But we're not here to make money. When someone says to me, "Remember, it's show business," I almost always check my impulse to slap them. No, it's not business. What business do you know that loses lots of money on all its products and requires handouts to stay afloat? Only nonprofits.

Well, nonprofits and Too-Big-to-Fail banks.

We make up for that shortfall with grants and individual donations, so most seasons we break even, or end up ever so slightly in the black. Once in a while, a season ends in the red, but we're always able to make up for it within the following season, though sometimes that's hard.

A couple weeks ago, one of our regular donors offered us a $5,000 matching gift. The catch is we have to match it. So we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the match:  We have less than a week to go, and it's going pretty slowly, but I still have faith. I hope everyone reading this will make a pledge -- every dollar you pledge will be doubled. That's pretty cool.

New Line is a professional company -- everybody gets paid, though it's often fairly shitty pay -- but because of the kind of work we do, corporate and foundation support is limited. To be honest, I'm constantly amazed that we're still around after all these years. There have been so many times when I really thought we couldn't dig out of the hole we were in, but we always come back from our near death experiences as strong as ever.

When I worked at Dance St. Louis, I got into an argument with one of the staff about our mission. She believed DSL's primary goal was to sell tickets. I argued that DSL's primary goal was to bring dance to St. Louis and share it with the community. You may think that's a distinction without a difference, but you'd be wrong. In an ideal world, every performance would be free. In the real world, that's usually not possible. But it is the obligation of any performing arts nonprofit to keep their prices as low as possible while still keeping the doors open. Our raison d'etre is not to make money, but to make and share art. The money part is a necessary evil.

In a culture where most people measure success in dollars, that can be a hard case to make. But I make it anyway because it's true. I'm proud to say that New Line has never chosen a musical to produce because it will sell well. Art always trumps commerce. Sure, some of the shows we do are both good art and also commercial -- and that's great when it happens, believe me -- but the art always comes first. We're not a ticket seller; we're an arts organization.

And as we sit here in the middle of our 22nd season, I think New Line's success proves my case. We are frequently showered with praise and honors, but only occasionally with money. The truth is I hate having to raise money. I really wish we were big enough to have a development department to do it all for me. But if New Line had a big enough budget to do that, we couldn't do the kind of theatre we do now. We'd have to be producing Nunsense and The Sound of Music. Please just kill me now.

So the question is: Do you enjoy New Line shows? Do you think what we do is important? Do you think our community is better for the work we do? Do you think storytelling is as central to the life and health of a civilized society as we all do? Do you believe we have to feed the soul as well as the belly? Do you think live theatre is a really powerful way to talk about the big issues of our times?

I hope your answer is Yes.

Then step up and help us out. After all, the world is ending on December 21, so what good will your money do you then? If everyone who reads this blog would pledge $25, and then convince one friend to do the same, we'd hit our goal in a heartbeat.

I've never written a blog about fundraising before, but I think it's important for people to understand why we need contributions, why ticket sales aren't enough, how a company like New Line survives. Back in the 1930s, the Supreme Court ruled that arts organizations should be tax-exempt, like schools and churches, because they are an inherent social good. Not all nonprofits embrace that responsibility, but New Line does.

But being an inherent social good doesn't pay the bills.

So how 'bout it? Make your pledge today and watch it double!

Thank you in advance.

Long Live the Musical! And Long Live New Line!