As New York–based producer Ken Davenport recently pointed out on his blog, The Producer’s Perspective, Boston was once a major stop for shows on the road to hit runs on Broadway. Today, however, Boston’s eminence as a tryout town for New York City–bound musicals has all but disappeared. Other states—including Louisiana and Rhode Island—have successfully passed their versions of theater tax credit laws, rendering Boston less financially attractive to producers looking to test new material. But Massachusetts legislators have taken note of this trend, and state representatives Nick Collins of Boston and Paul McMurtry of Dedham filed their own theater tax credit bill Jan. 17.
The proposed legislation would grant a credit of up to $3 million for productions or tours starting in the city, and 35 percent of the in-state labor costs would be reimbursed. Additionally, the credit includes a 25 percent reimbursement for production and performance costs, out-of-state labor expenses, and travel. The bill also caps the overall credits given during one tax year at $10 million.
“Some of the most prominent theaters here are not thriving to the point they once were,” McMurtry told Backstage. “This legislation hopes to re-establish that once-thriving theater scene, which will have a positive economic impact across the entire commonwealth.”
McMurtry believes the law will create jobs and bring in extra money through audiences who not only buy tickets but also eat out near the theater or stay in a hotel. He added that the legislators hope the bill will lay the groundwork for Boston to become a natural pre-Broadway choice, so the state government will eventually not have to provide the additional financial assistance.
While Davenport is convinced the bill will pass, he is unsure of whether New York City producers will start to move their dollars to the Great White Way instead of other major cities across the country.
“I don’t expect to see a major swing even if the legislation passes, which I expect it will. It feels a little too late,” Davenport told Backstage. “I hate to say it because Boston is my hometown, but there are a lot of alternatives providing similar results.”
In his blog, Davenport also explained how the demise of Boston’s former position in theater was related to the high infrastructure costs. In his piece, Davenport wrote, “The early success of Boston as a pre-Broadway tryout, and the business it got as a result, allowed everything to get a bit more expensive without anyone really caring.” He added that Boston is a highly populated place, which can translate into more eyes and pressure on producers to turn out amazing material without the ability to fully experiment or rework a piece.
For now, the bill is still waiting to be assigned to a committee, where it will be up for public comment. McMurtry said the process itself, before the bill is signed into law, could take several months or even go into next year. In the meantime, Broadway fans in Boston can revel in a bit of good news: “Tuck Everlasting” will be debuting at the Colonial Theatre in the summer before heading to New York City.