Now a full year into his role as executive director of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), Jack Goldstein speaks with a proactive, positive tone. His words reveal how his analytical skills and supportive management strategy make him well-suited to run this complex organization.
"Everywhere I look at TDF, which is a fine nonprofit and a great organization, there is an enhancement that can be made," Goldstein says. "There is always a better connection to make between what we want to do and the people we are trying to serve."
Though most would identify TDF with its TKTS Booth, a high-profile service that has offered discount tickets to Broadway (and now Off- Broadway) shows for some 25 years, TDF is actually much more. In other, often less visible ways, TDF is an influential service organization, and a theatre advocacy group that concentrates on programs that help develop audiences and support new theatrical productions.
Goldstein also says it has been challenging reestablishing relations and connections with the rest of the industry. "There was a time when TDF had become a little isolated and insular, and people needed to feel that we really were a service organization and not just another profit-sharer in their industry," he explains.
There are numerous TDF programs to keep track of. The TKTS Booth‹TDF's major revenue source‹is just one of TDF's ticket programs. The "triple threat" service the organization provides with its ticket programs is not always understood: Not only do a controlled group of subscribers get discounted tickets. The proceeds (plus a subsidy in certain instances) are returned to the producers; and, finally, the production itself benefits from the reactions and word of mouth generated from the TDF audiences.
There are also several education programs and special services programs, such as the Theatre Access Project, where sign interpreters make theatre accessible for deaf audiences. In addition, there are awards, including the TDF Astaire Awards, the Irene Sharaff Awards, and the Robert Whitehead Award.
If it seems a daunting task just getting an initial understanding of the scope of TDF's operations, imagine stepping into a leadership role there.
"There was a period," Goldstein says, "when in addition to my finding out what the staff were like and what their capacities were, they needed to judge what mine were as well. It took some months to build up what I think is a pretty good relationship where we have the trust you need to accomplish things. If I feel something is worth doing, and I am responsible about the way I go about doing it, I have a pretty good chance of actually doing it."
Melding Policy & Politics
Goldstein is no stranger to high-level policy making and strategy. He came to TDF from Actors' Equity, where he was special assistant for governmental affairs. He has always been politically active, serving on Community Board 5 in Manhattan (which he chaired in 1991); and he was instrumental in development of the Broadway Initiative, as well as acting as an advisor to the city on the plan to develop a theatre space in the new Time-Warner headquarters at Columbus Circle.
All this experience notwithstanding, Goldstein values working closely with his staff and, at times, letting them take the lead.
"There are some people who never realize there can be two right answers," Goldstein says. "Until you do, in certain circumstances, you really can't go forward because you don't understand the problem. Sometimes you've got to solve your competitor's problem or your opponent's problem, or your partner's problem. You've got to do that as part of the process. It's not that I can always come up with practical ideas for each program, because I have a wealth of talent here.
"For instance, I went to Marianna Houston Weber, who is director of our education program, to talk about Play By Play, a newspaper for kids, written by kids," he continues. "It goes to New York City students on a quarterly basis. We had always held that Play By Play was in 200 high schools; but I asked Marianna for clarification on this, because if it was just a matter of a small number of copies going to each school, it wasn't acceptable. I told her that if it was a matter of money, perhaps we could raise funds to bump up the circulation. It's interesting because she listened to me and took my point and started to walk out of the office. Then she turned around and said, "You'd be throwing your money down the drain. We can print and distribute thousands in the schools, but there's no guarantee they would end up in the hands of the students.'
"So I asked her, "How do we do it? How can I best improve the distribution of Play By Play?'"
"She said it was a matter of establishing personal contacts. So, rather than printing a huge run, we are spending much less, about $6,000, to visit the 200 schools over the course of a year to establish individual contacts. In that case, my inclination was all wrong, but someone on staff had a body of knowledge in that particular area. I knew when she told me what should be done that she was right."
Goldstein's collaborative style within TDF has also served him well with his colleagues at other organizations in the theatre community. For example, with the introduction of the new Playbill In-Line, a large, colorful broad sheet that includes show schedules, ads, and editorial for theatre patrons, TDF facilitated the project from start to finish.
"We have just started with Playbill In-Line," Goldstein says. "We hand it out at the TKTS booth. Off-Broadway is very pleased because we're giving their productions equal billing and we reverse the order of the listings on a monthly basis. The reactions from the consumer have been wonderful. Nobody's leaving it, they're taking it away as a souvenir of waiting in the line. We've just met with the Port Authority and they've given us permission to start giving it away at the downtown TKTS Booth in the World Trade Center. This was not an easy thing to accomplish because of all the sensitivities that it touches. We needed to go to the city because we're sitting in Father Duffy Square. The producers needed to feel comfortable, so we sent them advance notice of it, mock-ups, and we had two open houses in August so they could air their views. We ran it as a pilot version in August and September to get comments and we finally came out with it in October.
"It's a matter of being able to see the architecture and the steps you need to take. In this business, the steps are complex. That's really the challenge. How do you accomplish something in a business that takes the cooperation of 13-14 partners to get done? A business which is resistant to change and a business that is tradition-based and personality-based?"
Now comfortable in his role, and fortunate to have the support of his board of directors and staff, Goldstein also knows that there is still much to be done at TDF. The future is bright, he says, but there are many challenges ahead.
"TDF needs to look at its relationship with the smaller tier theatres and the Off-Broadway community," Goldstein says, "and particularly the downtown theatres. We have to give them a helping hand. It's one of the things that I'm looking at. I have a pretty good chance of doing that and I have a board that's interested in looking at ways that TDF can further its mission. Basically, if someone has an idea here, I can usually see my way clear to doing it. And, if TDF does it, it actually results in something positive happening. That's a great privilege, because there are so many people in this business who don't ever have that opportunity.
"There's a kind of generosity to the spirit of this organization that comes from a sense of responsibility to the theatre community."