Live commercial theater from Broadway to Los Angeles is about to get a huge financial boost under a federal tax code change that's been championed by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and such stars as Neil Patrick Harris and Bryan Cranston.
Under a tax package that passed the House and is to be voted on in the Senate on Friday, Broadway and live theater productions would be given the same benefits that have long been afforded to TV and film productions.
Now, like small and large screen projects, live theater and concert productions would get up to $15 million in tax credits if they spent at least 75 percent of their budgets in the U.S. The new rule would apply for productions starting after Dec. 31.
"This is the biggest shot in the arm that Broadway and live performance has had in a long time," Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said by phone Thursday. "It's a very fair rule. It says: 'Treat live performance the same as you treat movies.'"
Broadway and off-Broadway producer Ken Davenport, who has urged the theatrical community to push for the measure, celebrated its imminent passage.
"Half the reason I'm happy is that it's just another sign that people are paying more attention to Broadway as a significant part of the economic driver in this country," said Davenport, who has helped produce such shows as Kinky Boots, Spring Awakening and Allegiance.
The change is part of the Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes Act of 2015, a package of more than $600 billion in tax breaks for businesses, investors and families, which the House passed 318-109 with bipartisan support. It goes to the Senate on Friday, where it is expected to pass.
Schumer, who has been working on the tax break for four years, said the change would create "thousands and thousands" more jobs for actors and backstage workers, and produce more shows nationwide, helping hotel, restaurant and taxi industries. He noted that other countries also grant live theater similar breaks, especially in London, which has been luring away American productions.
Schumer said he expected the measure will help both Broadway producers — since they'll be able to deduct their expenses up front — and investors, who won't have to pay taxes on profits they haven't made yet. The measure was co-sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican of Missouri.
Last year, the New York senator was joined by Harris, Cranston, Tyne Daly and producer Harvey Weinstein, as well as cast members from The Phantom of the Opera, Newsies and Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. They all urged passage of the bill, saying it would enable theater producers to take more chances.
"It will help small theater production even more than large, but it will help both," Schumer said. "I obviously care about Broadway — it's a major New York industry — but it's good for the whole country."
The backers of the change pointed out that the benefits go far beyond New York, where Broadway box offices earned $1.36 billion last season. In the 2012-2013 theater season — the most recent year for which data is available — some 45 touring Broadway shows performed for more than 14 million theatergoers, contributing almost $3.2 billion to the U.S. economy.
"Broadway has a ripple effect through the rest of the country. If Broadway's booming, then the touring houses are booming. It's one of our greatest exports, in my opinion. And that business has been growing tremendously over the last 10, 20 years — U.S.-created Broadway entertainment going everywhere from South Korea to Australia. Russia, Sweden and all these countries," said Davenport.
"It's a huge business and I think they finally said, 'Wow, this is significant and we need to treat them with respect and to make sure that people like me still do it.' It gets harder and harder to produce on Broadway. Every year, it gets just a wee bit harder," he added. "I'm glad people are starting to say, 'We can't lose this business.'"
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