Officials seek tax credit to lure theater ‘teching’
SCHENECTADY “Teching” is what all theater companies do before they put on a show, the goal being to make sure the stage manager, actors, props and all other elements associated with the production are working together as one finely tuned machine.
It’s happening this week and next at Proctors, where the first-ever national touring production of “Ghost The Musical” will open on Saturday, Sept. 12. While the economic impact of a five-day run at Proctors is substantial, getting a national tour to “tech” at your downtown theater means even more dollars for the community. That’s the idea Philip Morris and Randy Buck were selling at a Wednesday morning roundtable discussion at Proctors, as they attempted to raise support for a bill that will be presented to the state Legislature next April. Morris, CEO at Proctors, and Buck, head of Troika Entertainment, hope to convince state lawmakers to give tax breaks to theater companies that decide to do their “technical week” somewhere in upstate New York.
“Nothing goes to Proctors,” said Morris, who typically draws anywhere between six and 10 national touring productions to Schenectady every year. “We don’t get any money. It goes to the production company putting on the show, but our incentive is that the money gets spent upstate. We’re asking them, ‘please come up here and spend your money.’ ”
Officials estimated that approximately $200,000 will be spent on local labor hired by companies such as Troika during a two-week stretch, and that’s just the start.
“We have a local crew with usually about 60 or 70 people that will be here for possibly three to four weeks,” said Buck, who is also executive producer of “Ghost The Musical.” “Those people need to lie in a bed, they need to eat three times a day and they need to carry on their lives, so this town becomes their home for a while. It creates a very large influx of cash for the community.”
Troika, a company based in Gaithersburg, Md., might have as many as three or four national productions up and running at the same time, and the opportunity to find a city where cast and crew can prepare for a national tour is paramount. It’s a rather costly proposition, and currently there are very few inexpensive options.
Providence, R.I., and Chattanooga, Tenn., are among the places that lure national tours to their town with tax incentives, and Buck is hoping that after April 1, 2014 — when the next New York state budget is passed — a law will be in place to make things easier for his company and others like them.
“It just costs too much money to do it in New York,” said Buck. “Schenectady is a 21⁄2-hour train ride from the city, and what we’re looking for is a nice big place to dump everything and get everything ready. We don’t have that luxury in New York, but the proximity of Schenectady makes it work. If we need to, we can just send someone up on a train or bus and they’re here. They don’t have to go to the airport.”
The bill, which offers a 30 percent tax break, will be offered to the state Legislature by state Sen. Betty Little, a Republican from the 45th District, which covers parts of six North Country counties.
The bill, which covers only the money spent during a technical week, does for the theater world what a similar bill does for the film and TV community.
“This is not unlike the film credit, which entices filmmakers to produce movies in New York,” Morris said. “That money, however, goes largely to New York City. Our bill is an upstate New York venture. This is for places like Proctors and theaters in Utica, Syracuse, Buffalo. There will be some who disagree, but people like Betty and others see the real value. I think the reaction will be pretty warm.”
“Ghost The Musical” is based on the 1990 Oscar-nominated film “Ghost,” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
Bruce Joel Rubin, Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard turned the movie into a stage musical, which earned three Tony Award nominations in 2012.