In light of the Tony Awards this past week, I thought it timely to take a look at some of the issues facing the modern theater industry in New York. The weak dollar has proven to be a double edged sword for American theater. Many international tourists are flocking to now bargain-priced American cities, such as New York, to take advantage of the exchange rates. The weak dollar has also encouraged many Americans to take vacations at home rather than abroad. At the same time, a quick glance at Sunday’s Tony Award nominees reveals that there are many European imports such as “The 39 Steps,” “Boeing, Boeing,” and “Sunday in the Park with George.” Although these shows are critically and often commercially successful, the falling dollar has meant higher costs than producers originally budgeted for many of these imported shows. Not only must producers pay higher rates for the rights to the scripts, but international artist fees have also risen.

Some of the organizations hit hardest by the falling dollar are those specializing in international performances, especially those focused on bringing international artists to the states. These days, wages paid in dollars are often a contentious point of negotiations. The annual international festival in Spoleto will produce an estimated $80,000 loss for the first time in its 13 year history due to the declining value of the dollar against the euro.

All of these issues contribute to higher production costs that must be covered by the pocketbooks of audiences or performers. However, there is a bright spot on the horizon for at least some actors. The Senate recently passed a bill allowing more performers to deduct work-related expenses from their annual adjusted gross income by raising the cap on deductions from incomes of $16,000 annually to $30,000. Senator Chuck Schumer estimated that the bill should help over 36,000 performers in New York alone.

Brooke Russ

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