Theatre Design & Technology - Dec 1968 - (Page 4)

West German Theatre Organization and Finance WINFIELD HUnON New York City West Germany enjoys the most intensive theatre network in the world. This nation of 60 million people in a land mass the size of Oregon has 74 theatres owned by various levels of government plus a number of private theatres. Certain aspects of this complex, which has been evolving gradually over the last 300 years, might serve as a model to more embryonic systems such as our own. Particularly since regional theatres in the United States serve functions quite similar to the German civic theatres, an examination of the German system of organization and finance could suggest some useful and workable ideas. Regardless of city size, practically all West German theatres have nine or ten month seasons. The typical week involves six performance nights with Monday the usual day off. Matinees are rare in Germany; theatre administrators say these have not been well attended, although a not insubstantial number of people at both ends of the age spectrum claimed to want matinees in a recent League of West German Theatres survey. Smaller cities generally use only one theatre building, alternating plays, operas, and operettas from night to night. Larger municipalities often operate two or three theatres simultaneously on a nightly basis, presenting operas, operettas, and large-scale plays in the large house, typical plays in the small house, and avant-garde work in the "chamber" (experimental) theatre. On the average, these houses contain about 1400,900, and 300 seats, respectively, and the percentage of seats sold (according to a survey I made last year) is 86 percent for operas and operettas, 81 percent for plays (except those done in the chamber theatres), and 76 percent for plays done in the chamber theatres. Several factors account for these seemingly high percentages. One is breadth of season's repertory. Because the theatres have been operating for such a long time and have fairly stable ensembles, they have developed an extensive backlog of works from which to choose. As examples, the Hamburg State Opera, though noted for the thorough preparation of its productions, does an average of 55 works per season, and the Bremen city theatre (in a typical middle-sized city) does yearly in its large house 25 operas (of which 8 are new productions), 8 operettas ( of which 4 are new productions), 9 plays (of which 7 are new productions), and one ballet program. In its chamber theatre it presents 13 plays, of which 8 are new productions. A Bremen resident who wants to see everything once will therefore attend 56 performances, or 27 times if he only wants to see the season's new productions. Low ticket prices are another reason for high attendance. The most common ranges are 87¢ - $2.50 for operas or operettas and 75¢ - $2.25 for plays. Chamber theatre prices usually run 75 ¢ - $1.50. In addition to these low prices, all theatres offer a discount to subscribers, the usual one being 25 or 30 percent. The average number of subscription series is 19, and the typical subscription involves 16 or 20 performances over the usual 9 to 10 month season. 4 Subsidy, of course, allows for low ticket prices. A study I made of financial statements for the 1964-65 season of 23 West German theatres owned by state or local governments revealed that 67.3 percent of their income came from subsidy [63.1 percent of this from the city, 1.1 percent from the Landkreis (county). 35.4 percent from the Land (state), and 0.4 percent from the Federal government]. These and other percentage distributions of income and expenses are presented in the accompanying tabl e. Since the theatres are government-owned, their budgets are part of the public record and therefore available for the inspection of anyone caring to take the time. The percentages given for sources of subsidy are, of course, averages. The city-owned theatres (Stadttheater) get almost all of their subsidy from the city, while the state-owned theatres (Staats theater} get most of their subsidy from the state. Most of the Staatstheater are in the larger cities, while the Stadttheater serve medium and smaller-sized cities (although the government theatres in Cologne and Frankfurt are both city theatres). The other major category of government-owned theatre is the kind that serves more than one community; Landestheater and Stadtebundtheater belong to this classification. These usually operate out of the central city in a rural area, presenting regular performances and subscription series in the surrounding smaller communities. One example of a Landestheater is Detmold in Westphal ia; it presents performances in 11 cities of the area, receiving part of its subsidy from each of them, as well as from the 8 counties (Landkreisen) it serves, and 46 percent from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The tradition of government support for regional resident theatres, of course, is long-standing in Germany, but the reasons behind it today apply equally well to similar theatres in the United States. Judging from the recruiting statements made by American companies in wooing professional staff, the existence of the Minnesota Theatre Company is just as much an inducement for an engineer to work in Minneapolis as the Dusseldorf Schauspielhaus is to the German Ingenieur considering a job in the Ruhr. Nor is there any difference in the degree of pride expressed by the officials of these two cities in their respective cultural institutions. The only difference is that the Dusseldorf Playhouse gets a $650 million annual subsidy from the city it serves while, until recently, the non-profit Minnesota Theatre Company was even assessed property taxes and still receives no subsidy. By rights, the MTC should be receiving a substantial subsidy not only from the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (which it also serves), but an additional subsidy from the state of Minnesota for performing the Landesbuhne function of giving performances in the state's smaller communities. The question of subsidy always raises the related one of control. Recent developments in Pittsburgh and with Philadelphia's Living Arts company should dispel the notion that absence of subsidy means freedom from control. Conversely, continuation of subsidy has not resulted in continuation of control in post-war West Germany. I surveyed each of the rnrrLJ THEATRE DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY DECEMBER, 1968

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Theatre Design & Technology - Dec 1968