Running a playhouse requires a love of theater, enough money to purchase
a building and a great deal of time and energy.
To run a successful playhouse, you need management skills, good business
sense and the ability to prepare and analyze budgets. It's also important
to be comfortable delegating tasks to staff and volunteers.
The day-to-day running of a playhouse is very hectic. Sets need to be designed,
constructed, set up and dismantled. Scripts need to be read. Costumes need
to be designed and fitted.
It's important to always maintain your composure. This can be a challenge
when faced with all the problems that can come up in a mainly volunteer-driven
Pat Beyer owns a 152-seat playhouse in Delmont, Pennsylvania. "You have
to be a people person, a problem solver and you have to be comfortable approaching
people who can donate services or supplies. You need to be able to turn a
sow's ear into a silk purse."
Beyer emphasizes that "when it comes to budgeting, you must know what you're
Technical skills are also required. Although you may not operate the lighting
and sound yourself or design and build the sets, "you need to use the same
vocabulary [as] your staff," Beyer says. "You need knowledge of set design
to discuss it with directors."
If you are involved in the production of plays, you must read the scripts
to know what sort of props you need. You also need to adjust the script to
work within the limitations of your stage and facility.
Jack Sheriff owns a 75-seat playhouse and arts center. For him, running
his playhouse "began, and remains [today], basically an amateur or community
Sheriff has never considered his playhouse a business. He has rarely tried
to make money from it. He is more concerned about keeping admission prices
affordable for the entire family and keeping theater accessible in his community.
His goal is to break even and not lose money. He hasn't profited from
buying the buildings, but he breaks even with each show. He runs the playhouse
for the love of it.
Sheriff developed his love of theater in high school. He continued acting
through university. He decided that teaching was a logical way to earn a living,
and drama was his hobby. After retiring, he bought the playhouse with the
money he had earned as a university professor. He also bought an opera house
and an art gallery that he now runs.
Sheriff has always had a passion for theater. "Other people buy cars; I
buy theater buildings," he explains. "When people come into the building to
buy a painting and say, 'My, that's expensive!' I reply, 'Cars
rust, but art doesn't.'"
He works seven days a week but insists that it is effortless. He starts
his day at 9 a.m. working at his art gallery. There, he finds plenty of time
to write plays and write his novel. In the evening, he rents out the theater
and books the shows. If there is a show at his playhouse, he will be there
until 11 p.m.
Sheriff says his reward is "the satisfaction and fulfillment I get from
providing people -- children and adults alike -- with opportunities to express
themselves onstage. Equally as important is the satisfaction I get from providing
culturally relevant entertainment and exposure to the arts in general and
theater in particular."
Sheriff advises young people interested in running a playhouse to work
in a theater group to learn the ropes. "Small theater groups rely on you to
do everything," he says.
"Don't expect to become a star," he adds. "Keep your feet on the ground
and your head in the clouds. Be realistic, don't expect too much, but
that shouldn't stop you from dreaming. It's not all glamor."
Beyer also runs her playhouse as a labor of love. Twenty-one years ago,
Beyer became involved as an actress with the playhouse she now owns. The previous
owners of the playhouse approached her to buy the financially-troubled theater.
They continued to negotiate with Beyer over the years. Finally, in 1981, she
decided that the price was right and that she wanted to dive into a new project.
Beyer's goal is not to make a great deal of profit with her playhouse.
Rather, she wants to break even with each production. She would also like
to continually improve the playhouse and its equipment.
Beyer's main responsibility is to make sure that the playhouse has
the staff (both paid and unpaid) and the materials that they need for each
production. She employs a business manager, a part-time personal assistant,
a box-office ticketing agent and a house manager.
Her playhouse runs an apprenticeship program for sound and lighting, costume
design, set and prop construction and stage management. When necessary, Beyer
will design and make props and costumes.
Beyer's networking skills have helped her to form relationships with
other playhouses in the community.
They lend each other props as needed. She also spends a lot of time combing
the want ads and visiting yard sales, flea markets and antique auctions looking
The biggest cost of owning a playhouse is buying the theater. Building
costs vary with the local real estate market and the condition of the building.
If Sheriff were to purchase his playhouse and arts center today, it would
cost about $138,000. He did a fair bit of renovation to the structure. His
main cost today is heating the building during the winter months.
Beyer bought her building 21 years ago for around $30,000 and immediately
made much-needed renovations. She worked on a shoestring budget, mortgaged
the building and fixed it up to meet building code standards.
Because it costs so much to buy a theater, it's rare to have only
one person as the owner. Most playhouses are owned by nonprofit organizations
that receive government grants.
That's the case for another community playhouse and arts center. The
playhouse is owned by a nonprofit umbrella organization. Four different theater
companies banded together to create the organization in order to buy the playhouse.
It's run by a board of directors appointed by the theaters.
Jean Malavoy is the executive director of a 152-seat playhouse. He has
been involved in the arts community for 25 years. He's worked as a government
grants trustee and as the manager of a cultural center.
Malavoy believes that the skills necessary to run a playhouse are similar
to the skills needed in most small businesses. For him, good relationships
with his staff and the board of directors are key.
"When you are in show business, you have a very visible position, like
an ambassador," explains Malavoy. He feels that his theater is very well respected
in the community.
Malavoy's arts center relies heavily on an excellent relationship
with the community. The theater was bought with the help of the community.
The building cost $2 million, and a quarter of that money came from the community.
Individual community members donated $300 or $500 each. Seats in the playhouse
were sold for $500 each.
Malavoy says that working in the arts community makes you vulnerable to
the unpredictability of politics. That's because arts funding is not
as high a priority as other things like health care and education. Half of
his arts center's operating budget is funded by government grants.
Malavoy says that running a playhouse is the "greatest job you could find.
It is tremendous doing a job associated with the arts," he says. "You cannot
live without culture. Culture makes sense of your life. Becoming an independent
playhouse owner will give you the opportunity to fulfill that goal."
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