Generating a Profit from Square One

As the curtain on Metamorphoses came down and the last drops of water were drained out of the pool, bookkeeping for the fall play revealed a healthy profit. A practice Performing Arts Department Chair Laura Rosberg holds dear to her heart, “zero-based budgeting” for the shows (ie, the notion that the theatre department itself must raise all of its money for each production), presents its challenges while preparing students for the competitive theater world.

Making a profit from the fall show was an arduous task as GDS does not directly fund any theater productions. Instead, a combination of ticket sales, advertising, patrons, and prudent spending, all of which were led by students, generated enough funding to cover the $15,400 budget and leave a profit.

When designing a year’s theater season, Rosberg always faces the question of whether to select shows that may not break even. In a given year, she’ll often balance a show that draws smaller crowds with a show that is guaranteed to be a money maker.

“We hope the shows can all make the money back, but let’s be honest, they can’t,” Rosberg said.

An example of this offsetting came last year. The spring musical Floyd Collins relied slightly more on seed money from the fall play Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Winter One Acts Festival than is typical: ticket sales for the production garnered less revenue than a show normally would.

“When you are dealing with a show like Floyd Collins, those kinds of shows don’t sell,” senior Will Foster, who served as the producer for both Floyd Collins and Metamorphoses, explained. “People go to what they know and what they know are shows like Newsies and stuff that has been on Broadway. Floyd was on Broadway for about three days.”

The latest production did not encounter the same crowd-drawing obstacles that play a critical role in deciding whether a given show will make money. This was in part due to the pool featured in the set that aroused a spectacle and allowed the students involved to develop creative fundraising gimmicks such as selling designated “splash-zone” tickets and ponchos.

“Everyone called me crazy when I introduced the poncho idea. But, no one really wants to get wet, and so they would much rather buy a poncho,” Foster said.

The students involved in the shows can now use the surplus from these promotions, in addition to the profits raised from the One Acts, to make the spring musical, Urinetown, more grandiose.

If at the end of the year the accumulation of spending and revenue raised from the shows has left a profit, Rosberg will invest the money immediately into maintenance or purchasing new equipment.

“We try to have the latest equipment we can because if we are going to train technicians, we need to have something that will look like what they’ll have when they hit college or the real world,” Rosberg explained of her decision to always invest the remaining profit at the conclusion of each school year.

Foster also recognized the importance of these investments.

“We aren’t making these shows to make money but to continue to perpetuate the same kind of quality and theatrics that we’ve done in the past,” he said. “Because a lot of people know GDS for its professional and robust theater department, we have a reputation to uphold.”

The absence of school funding in the productions is part of what gives GDS’s theater program an air of professionalism. For Rosberg, who personally witnessed the consequences that ensue when a government withdraws funding from arts while growing up in Canada, teaching students not to rely on grants is critical.

“It’s never going to be that easy, and you need to learn how to do it,” she said.

Additionally, over the course of her tenure at GDS, Rosberg has seen the school prioritize different programs and understands that this is essential in improving the school as a whole.

“I think most people would say, ‘I want more,’ but I am respectful of GDS and all the things that cost money at this school,” Rosberg reflected. “Those are things that make GDS great when they prioritize their budgets for something that will make the school stronger.”

By: Mica Maltzman ’20