Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Business Behind the Show

Usually I talk about what goes on to get productions to the stage, and Greg chimes in on a regular basis to comment on that. What you hear about a lot less often is what goes backstage to let Greg put the shows onstage. And this time I don't mean the production staff of a show, or the technical staff...I mean the money!

I know I've said before season tickets only account for about 25% of those sold at 42nd St. Moon. And it's also true that all ticket sales only account for about 60% percentage of income for the theatre. The rest comes from donations...and from grants.

Without those grants 42nd St. Moon wouldn't be bringing in high caliber performers, wouldn't be able to devote time to restoring lost works, and certainly wouldn't be able to continue putting on more little-known gems than old war horses.

And who is the rarely-sung hero that helps 42nd St. Moon bring in those grants? Managing Director Lauren Hewitt.

So when Lauren emailed me, full of excitement, about a grant proposal she had turned in, I thought, "OK, we don't normally talk about this side of the business, but without it...where would the other side of the business be?" So, this is something Lauren worked really hard on and should give you a new appreciation for what it takes to keep a theatre going year after year:

"I should tell you about one of the huge grant proposals we submitted.  It's actually very exciting.  We have been cultivating the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for a number of years now.  Of course the California economy has been in the dumps, so getting Hewlett's attention has been very competitive.  We submitted a LOI (Letter of Intent) in December as all potential fundees do, and out of the sea of performing arts applicants, we were one of two organizations invited to submit a full proposal.  I screamed when I got the word.   It is fantastic, just fantastic for 42nd Street Moon to be offered this opportunity.  I don't know if you know Bay Area Foundations, but Hewlett is one of few that offers ongoing operational support for performing arts organizations. They are very generous to their grantees and being recognized by Hewlett holds a lot of clout with other funders.  
I spent about 40 hours on the proposal that includes some fairly heady stuff based on what they call a Causal Model.  The whole proposal was based on the 42nd St. Moon's recently completed and board approved long-range plan.  And the timing couldn't be better because Hewlett requires all their fundees to have long-range plans.  It took us a full year to go through a facilitated process to flush out a plan and another six months of editing and rewriting before it was passed - just in time for the Hewlett proposal.  It's really a big deal for us - institutionally anyway.  I guess it might be boring to people interested in musicals, to me - well, it's music to my ears, better than an opening night!

The way Lauren describes it, it gets me excited too!

Oh, and BTW: I was talking to a friend of mine who's the artistic director for a theatre in Los Altos. She said they get funding from Hewlett through their grants to "local" organizations, and she considers herself very lucky they're "local" because getting one for the arts grants is much more competitive.

We'll have to keep you posted. But knowing how much work went into the proposal and long-range plan, I have a feeling it's going to come through.

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