Gov. Maura Healey hopes a special tax credit in her proposed state budget will boost local theaters. The credit is designed to attract productions headed to Broadway.
The Hanover Theatre in Worcester is one of several theaters that lobbied for the live theater tax credit in Massachusetts, which is modeled after similar tax incentives in Rhode Island and New York.
“Massachusetts used to be a breeding ground for new Broadway shows, new tours. And that all went away some years ago, as our neighboring states started passing tax credit programs to attract the Broadway producers there,” said Hanover Theatre CEO Troy Siebels.
“The tour of ‘Pretty Woman’, the tour of ‘Ain't Too Proud,' the tour of ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ — those are three examples that all opened in the Providence Performing Arts Center because of Rhode Island's tax credit,” he added.
Gov. Healey’s proposal describes the live theater tax credit as a “pilot program” designed to support productions costing at least $100,000 that are headed to Broadway, off-Broadway or a national tour. The Massachusetts Office of Business Development would be able to grant up to $5 million a year to qualifying productions.
Massachusetts theaters have been lobbying for a live theater tax credit since before the pandemic. Siebels said that previous attempts to get the legislation passed were overshadowed by the somewhat controversial Mass. film tax credit.
The live theater tax credit was supported by theaters like the Hanover and the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, whose bread and butter are touring productions and shows headed to New York. But smaller organizations may stand to benefit as well — like the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, which operates out of a 234-seat theater downtown.
“There’s a production company that I've had a few conversations with that I emailed this off to and said, ‘Would this … make it easier to stage a world premiere here and then move it?,'” said Lyric’s executive director Matt Chapuran.
He saw the tax credit as a good omen.
“I'm hopeful that this is an indicator that the Commonwealth as a whole is looking at investing more in the creative economy,” Chapuran said. “And I hope that we see more initiatives emerge that support, particularly, recent graduates or people earlier in their careers who need help with affordable housing, health care and child care, in order to really establish a viable career in the arts.”
The credit is part of an overall commitment to the creative sector from the governor. Her proposed budget also includes record-high funding for the Mass Cultural Council at $25 million.
“The fact that there are multiple policy recommendations and budget recommendations that address the needs of the creative sector in Gov. Healy's budget is a really positive signal,” said Emily Ruddock, executive director of advocacy organization MASSCreative.
Healey’s proposal represents an 11% increase in the Mass Cultural Council’s previous budget, and is higher than anything former Gov. Charlie Baker recommended during his tenure. But it has yet to touch the agency’s high water mark in 1988. That year, the Mass Cultural Council received $27.4 million, about $69 million, accounting for inflation.