Touring Productions Boosting BC/EFA’s Bottom Line

For years, Broadway Cares has helped AIDS Service Providers nationwide fulfill their missions with grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. During the past several years, theaters outside New York, in the heartland and on both coasts, have stepped up their efforts on our behalf, playing an increasingly essential role in BC/EFA’s fundraising.

This article focuses on touring shows of major productions; future pieces will look at regional theaters and the growing role played by high school/college theatrical groups.

The Shiz Tour of Wicked collected $214,000 for BC/EFA during last fall’s Gypsy campaign.)

By Andy Smith

A lot of New York-based Non-Profits suffered in the aftermath of 9/11 and Broadway Cares was among the organizations that endured financial setbacks as charitable giving dollars were spread thin.

Heightened competition from other nonprofits and diminished attendance on Broadway contributed to a drop in gifts from major donors and our twice-yearly collection periods. However, instead of throwing their hands up, Executive Director Tom Viola and Producing Director Michael Graziano took this setback as a challenge.

“I noticed that while the shows in New York had more than doubled the amount they raised over a period of four or five years, the total amount that the touring shows raised had actually dropped.” Graziano says. “It seemed to me there was a great opportunity for growth if we focused a little more attention on the touring shows that play in huge houses across the country.”

Graziano, Viola and other staff members began visiting these shows, sharing BC/EFA’s mission and offering the kind of motivation only face-to-face contact can generate.

“We also thought it would be a good idea to duplicate the friendly competition we have between the Broadway shows,” Graziano said. “So in the spring of 2002, we presented the first fund-raising award for the tour that raised the most money for BC/EFA.”

The results have been impressive. In the fall of 2001, seven touring shows – which at that time included Beauty and the Beast and Aida – generated $153,925. In 2004, 17 touring productions brought in $807,654 for the fall’s Gypsy of the Yeardrive. In 2005, 16 shows raised $725,964, thanks to shows like the Shiz Tour of Wicked ($214,000), Mamma Mia!($160,120), plus The Lion King Cheetah ($111,907) and Gazelle ($120,500) companies.

View from the Road

Graziano’s focus and personal attention have been complemented by the enthusiastic response of performers and production people, who work tirelessly to organize collections on tour. Joyce Davidson, assistant stage manager for theMamma Mia! Tour #2, stresses that “backstage people,” particularly stage managers (like her), usually coordinate collections, while the performers do their part by making appeals from the stage, autographing posters and posing for photos with fans.

“This tour alone has raised over $1 million in the four years it’s been on the road,” says Davidson, who joined the Mamma Mia! 2 tour more than two years ago.

Learning by Trial and Error

Lori Byars has coordinated collections for two touring shows: 42 nd Street and (currently)

The Lion King Cheetah Company.

“ We collect twice a year,” says Byars, also an assistant stage manager. “When I took over The Lion King, they were only collecting for two weeks and making about $45,000 during each collection period. Then we went to four weeks and brought in just over $100,000. Our most recent collection brought in over $110,000.”

Longer collection periods help, but so does marketing savvy, Byars says. “We get smarter as we go. A lot of our money comes from the merchandise that we sell and after four collections, we have a good feel for what will go first and fastest.

“For example, we sell hand-beaded items from South Africa; I’ve learned that we always sell twice as many giraffes as zebras,” she points out, adding that the financial climate in different regions also makes a difference. “In some cities we’ll be able to sell hundreds of autographed posters for $50 each and in another town, the posters won’t sell at all.”

The Value of Teamwork

Both Byars and Davidson agreed that marketing would mean little without the teamwork and competitive spirit that motivate the casts and crews of their shows to pull together and always push to earn more with each collection period. “We’ve been blessed that our entire ensemble wants to pitch in,” says Mamma Mia!’s Davidson. “There’s such a great sense of community.”

Graziano echoes that. “It is such a privilege to work with people like Joyce and Lori who provide great leadership for BC/EFA on the road. And it has been thrilling to see that their work, and the efforts of many others in the national tours, has increased BC/EFA’s national tour fund-raising by almost 500% in the last few years. Truly incredible and a testament to their huge hearts and hard work!”