Four Theatres in Business-Plan Contest Reach Semi-Finals

Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Redmoon Theater in Chicago, and the Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West, Fla., are among 90 organizations selected to move forward in the National Business Plan Competition for Nonprofit Organizations, a project of the Yale School of Management-The Goldman Sachs Foundation Partnership on Nonprofit Ventures.

The competition, now in its third year, is designed to encourage nonprofit organizations to develop the skills of "social entrepreneurship" through revenue-generating projects. For example, Arena Stage's proposal, called Camp Arena Stage, aims to offer classes in a variety of disciplines taught by professional actors, musicians, dancers, and the like. It is at once an innovative community-outreach effort and a way to increase employment opportunities for the company's many associated artists.

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which bills itself as the sixth largest performing arts center in the country, proposes to develop a multiacre site adjacent to the complex for a mixture of arts and cultural activities.

Redmoon Theater -- whose mission involves the creation of "theatrical spectacles that transform streets, stages, and architectural landmarks into places of public celebration utilizing an original language capable of speaking across cultural, ethnic, and generational boundaries" -- has already developed an offshoot company, Redmoon for Hire. The company essentially offers up its performers as party entertainment for corporate events, grand openings, and such civic celebrations as parades as a way to generate revenue and, not coincidentally, provide additional employment and income opportunities for its actors.

One of the most interesting business plans is the one being put forth by the Tennessee Williams Theatre. In addition to hosting its acclaimed annual festival of the works of its playwright namesake, the venue also runs Keystix.com, an online ticketing service for eight performance spaces located in Key West. The business plan aims to improve and perhaps expand the service.

In 2003, a partnership between the Guthrie Theater and the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis was named one of four grand-prize winners. For the 2004 competition, which ended last May, the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford, Conn., was the only arts-group semifinalist to arrive at the final round, but it did not make the final cut.

During the final round of the competition before winners are chosen in May 2005, nonprofits spend a total of three months working with business planning consultants and Yale School of Management students to strengthen, sharpen, and finalize their business plans. The four grand-prize recipients will each receive $100,000 to jump-start their businesses, but the four runners-up get a boost as well, receiving $25,000 apiece.