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Theatre produces tax dollars, argues Southern Rep. director

30th March 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Though it has received little media attention since the Jindal Administration announced that they would be on the proverbial chopping block, defending the continued existence of the Theatrical and Live Performance tax credits, known informally as “Broadway South,” has led some of the leaders of the theatrical world to talk about the economic impact that their industry has on the state’s economy. And, that stage actors produce tax dollars too, just in ways that the Governor has not counted in his budget.

Aimée Hayes, Producing Artist Director and head of the Southern Repertory Theatre as well as Director of the current smash hit Suddenly Last Summer, argued to The Louisiana Weekly that the legislature should think very hard before eliminating the Theatrical tax credits. They provide critical assistance to an industry that has grown to a notable size within the LA economy.

“This is something I’m very passionate about,” Hayes explained in an interview. “One of the things that nonprofit theaters bring to the communities is an essential economic impact. We offer more than 450 economically viable opportunities for artists, artisans, and technicians every year. I have a staff of nine. We are at an integral and essential part of the economy here, and we were able to take a vantage of a tax credit for nonprofit theaters that is no longer in place.” Her theatrical company survived, but the tax credit provided critical support at a key period. And, she notes, that her employees have paid it back multiple times.

“[W]hen you do the state’s paperwork and you finally get a chance to look at how much money you’re bringing back to the state that you live in and that you do your business in, it’s absolutely correct that you should be able to take advantage of a tax credit program. So I’m very disappointed that the tax credit for building a theater has also gone off the books and I think the performance tax credits that you’re talking about…it’s really key that we continue to bring in professionals from around the country who want to come here and take advantage of that thereby putting people from here to work, as technicians, artisans, an artists, and it only raise the profile of theater in this community. It’s a real hot-button issue for me.”

The Musical & Theatrical tax credit, also known as “Broadway South,” cost the state $8,754,604. Ostensibly, it has the smallest return, at just $185,497. So in theory the treasury loses $8,569,107.

However, the theatrical productions brought in, thanks to these credits, such as the musical stage production of “The Addams Family,” for example, which rehearsed its nationwide tour in the Crescent City, alone paid taxes on Union scale wages for a cast and crew of dozens. The amount paid in income taxes to the state treasury on that one Broadway show alone easily matches the $185,000 figure. The sum that the City of New Orleans earned in sales taxes on that show — and those it employed — easily surpasses that number.

Moreover, having that level of professional shows kept actors and stagehands employed and in the market, so that smaller companies, such as Hayes’ Southern Rep. have a talent pool upon which to draw. Collectively, the live theatrical industry pays far more than $8.8 million in income taxes to the State Treasury, but that message is not getting out to legislators, she noted.

“One of the things that I think is difficult for nonprofit arts organization is lobbying, is coming together to do the necessary lobbying, to keep programs like this in place,” she explained.

Just trying to stay in business is often an 80-hour-per-week job. The Southern Repertory Theatre, for example, had a home in the Canal Place for many years, but an expansion of the shopping center’s movie screens subsumed their stage. Kicked out, Southern Rep. began a peripatetic existence, wandering from stage to stage around the city for each production throughout the year. Yet, Hayes refused to decrease the number of her performances.

“When arts organizations face adversity, the first thing people think that we need to do is to cut back on programming and that we need to tighten our belts. And do less. When we lost our lease at Canal Place, it became evident to me that we needed to do more, that we reinvested in the art. Because that is what we do and, I think I have to say that has paid off we done wildly risky ventures. We’ve done more traditional work we traveled around the city. Our lagniappe program, which is our second stage program, continues to run at Mid City Theatre. We’ve grown our number of subscribers, even during our iterant status, and I think that the work has garnered appropriate attention. So, I think there is something to be said for reinvesting in what you do, when there is adversity.”

In fact, the Southern Rep. has led audiences to new theatres that patrons might never have previously considered, such as the home of their current production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. The Ashe Powerhouse Theatre at 1731 Baronne is quickly becoming a Central City landmark, bringing in dollars into a formally struggling Black inner city neighborhood. The $7.4 million conversion of the building has made it a perfect theatre venue to the sold-out crowds who have packed the space for each performance.

Staging one of the great New Orleans author’s plays each year is a key mission of Hayes’ group. “Southern Rep. has committed to producing all of Tennessee Williams’ work, so we’re working our way through the cannon. And, this is a really exciting one because of the movie. People are already familiar with it. It was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes and was a huge hit at the time. The play, of course, if very different from the movie.”

“‘Suddenly Last Summer’ is sort of a mystery play. I think you could look at it as ‘what happened last summer when cousin Sebastian was killed under very unusual circumstances,” and the play is about his mother Violet Venerable and his cousin Catherine Holly and their competing versions of truth.”

Final performances are this week, with a “Pay What You Can Night” at 8 pm on April 2nd, with additional evening performances on April 3 & 4 at 8 p.m., and a matinee on April 4 at 3 p.m.

Their next show, Boudin, the New Orleans Music Project runs April 15-May 17. It’s interactive, and Hayes queried, “How has New Orleans Music saved your soul? We’re asking New Orleanians from all over the city this question. Then we’ll choose from the funny, poignant, and powerful responses you send us to create BOUDIN: The New Orleans Music Project, an exhilarating theatre production that celebrates the music, art, magic, and history of our city.”

This article originally published in the March 30, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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