André Bishop, head of Lincoln Center Theater, earned pay and benefits valued at $1 million in 2017. It’s likely the biggest one-year compensation for a New York nonprofit theater leader. Todd Haimes, artistic director and chief executive of the Roundabout Theatre Company, was close behind, with $922,000.
“More people who run theaters are realizing it’s very hard work and want to be paid for it,” said James Abruzzo, a recruiter and compensation consultant who’s hired by arts executives to negotiate their contracts with nonprofit boards. Those at the top who have management and artistic ability are scarce, he said. “Keeping leaders happy and keeping them close are the most important tasks of the board.”
In the previous decade, Bishop’s comp package doubled while Haimes’ rose 74 percent — increases at least four times the rate of inflation.
In that period, the annual budget of the Roundabout, which has five venues in all, three on Broadway, grew to about $70 million. Bishop’s responsibilities increased at LCT, which operates three theaters on a budget of about $45 million.
I obtained the tax returns and audited financial statements of a dozen of the nation’s largest nonprofit theaters, from databases such as Guidestar and the organizations themselves, with an emphasis on New York institutions. Running the show comes with unrelenting demands, including programming, fundraising, staffing multiple teams of artists and educators, all the while coddling contributors, managing the press and the company’s eight-figure business. Ticket sales rollercoaster unpredictably from one season to another, playing havoc with budgets.
In this relatively small pond, a raise for one chieftain can have a ripple effect on others. In setting Bishop’s pay, Lincoln Center Theater relies on “comparative data for equivalent positions in other organizations,” according to the company’s 2017-18 tax return. The Internal Revenue Service dictates that nonprofit pay be “reasonable” — or what “would ordinarily be paid for like services by like enterprises under like circumstances.”
Also inflating compensation: retirement benefits set aside for theater pioneers, who put an inimitable stamp on the institutions they run. “I don’t want to leave but you can’t hold onto this forever,” Bishop, 70, said in a 2017 video interview with the company Primary Stages. In the same interview, he predicted an imminent “massive leadership change in New York” at not-for-profit theaters.
Lincoln Center Theater
In 2017, the most recent year pay was disclosed, André Bishop earned $757,000 in salary, according to LCT’s tax return. Plus, $15,000 for car service to and from the office, and retirement and deferred compensation of $198,000, which the company said was valued higher than usual because it’s sensitive to changes in interest rates, which fell that year. When Executive Producer Bernard Gersten retired in June 2013, he wasn’t replaced and Bishop was promoted from artistic director to producing artistic director. He took on additional duties, “especially as it pertains to board of director relations and fundraising, which he does the lion’s share of,” spokesman Philip Rinaldi said.
Bishop’s 2017 compensation was about 1.8 percent of LCT’s annual budget, which I calculated by averaging the previous three seasons’ expenses and omitting onetime retirement payouts.
Bishop joined in 1992 after 11 years running Playwrights’ Horizons, where he presented three plays that went on to win Pulitzer Prizes. He has shepherded acclaimed works by Wendy Wasserstein, Tom Stoppard, David Hare, William Finn and Adam Guettel. The 16 Broadway plays and musicals in which LCT was lead producer in the past decade won 19 Tony Awards, or 1.2 Tonys per show. That’s the highest Tony-per-show ratio in that period among the four nonprofits that operate Broadway — i.e. Tony eligible — houses.
LCT has a financial leg up over rivals, with investments exceeding $100 million, a board that includes billionaires and centi-millionaires, and three rent-free theaters on city-owned land, including the Tony-eligible Vivian Beaumont. (It does pay to maintain its theaters and its share of the common areas of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.) Like other nonprofits, some of its shows blur boundaries. My Fair Lady, which closed at the Beaumont in July 2019 after 509 performances, was produced with the Nederlander Organization, Broadway’s No. 2 landlord and a commercial producer. War Horse, the blockbuster World War I epic that ran from March 2011 to January 2013, was a joint venture with a limited partnership of investors.
Since Bishop’s seven-figure year, LCT has kept a less-than-frenetic pace. While it’s budgeted to produce two Broadway shows a season in the Beaumont, the musical Flying Over Sunset this spring will be its first new Broadway production in two years. The past three Broadway shows it gave its 30,000 members discounted access to — Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Adam Rapp’s The Sound Inside and Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society — are commercial productions overseen by independent producers. LCT invested in them, without taking on management or artistic roles (although it commissioned Rapp to write Sound Inside).
Rinaldi said the company couldn’t produce a Broadway show during My Fair Lady ‘s run because venues in the Broadway Theater District weren’t available. And it rented out the Beaumont to The Great Society when My Fair Lady closed earlier than expected, Rinaldi said, without elaborating. “By the time the decision was made to end the run, LCT was already committed to The Sound Inside [at the Roundabout’s Studio 54] as its fall Broadway production.”
Roundabout Theatre Co.
Todd Haimes earned $868,000 excluding retirement and benefits in 2017 — $568,000 base compensation and $300,000 bonus. That followed four seasons in which the value of the Roundabout’s investments and other assets soared.
In 2016, he earned $491,000 in salary and a lump sum $3.2 million — the culmination of a 2005 agreement to encourage him to remain at the organization and compensate him for its lack of a pension plan in his first 15 years there.
A Yale School of Management alumnus, Haimes led the foundering Chelsea institution out of bankruptcy in 1983. He went on to oversee such box office and critical hits as Anna Christie with Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson (1993), Nine with Antonio Banderas and Laura Benanti (2003), and revivals of Cabaret with Alan Cumming (1998 and 2014). In 2003, following years of red-hot growth in subscriptions and ticket sales, the Roundabout bought Studio 54, its second Broadway house, aided by $17.7 million of bonds issued by the city.
Revenue from ticket and subscription sales has been unusually volatile, from $45 million in 2000-01, to $35 million in 2013-14, to $18 million in 2017-18, which was a rare season in which the Roundabout didn’t stage a musical. Subscribers have fallen by two-thirds, from a high of 46,000 to 16,000 currently. That’s partly explained by the nationwide trend of performing arts competing against on-demand entertainment, with many consumers wary of committing to shows months in advance. And deep-pocketed commercial producers can outbid the Roundabout for stars and the rights to revivals. The Roundabout’s 12-year-old new-play development program helped launch a new generation of playwrights, such as Stephen Karam (The Humans ), but generally doesn’t make money.
Yet empire building paid off. In 2008, Haimes took control of a third Broadway house, what’s now the Stephen Sondheim. With the exception of its revivals of Bye Bye Birdie and Anything Goes, the Roundabout has used it for rentals to commercial productions, notably Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which closed on Sunday after six years. In 2017-18, the company’s income from rentals, including Studio 54, was $7 million after subtracting direct expenses — a quarter of earned revenue that season. Fundraising also improved.
Haimes, who like Bishop oversees both the artistic and business side, earned 1.3 percent of the Roundabout’s expenses. He wasn’t alone in benefiting from the board’s largesse. Executive Director Julia Levy is due to receive a total of $1 million from June 2020 through June 2022, on top of her annual pay, per her own retention agreement with the board. Her 2017 salary and bonus totaled $453,000. An earlier retention agreement netted her $200,000 in 2009, 19 years after she joined the company.
Manhattan Theatre Club
MTC Artistic Director Lynne Meadow‘s 2017 pay was $565,000, plus a onetime $700,000 from an investment account that MTC opened for her in 2011-12. The company adds $100,000 a year, for total contributions of $1 million, as long as she stays in her job through June 2021.
Executive Producer Barry Grove has a similar agreement, on top of his $560,000 pay in 2017. The retirement money “is in recognition of almost 50 years of service from the two top executives,” according to its tax return. The accounts were set up after the board commissioned the consulting and accounting firm PwC to conduct a “Competitive Total Renumeration Analysis.”
Meadow and Grove’s 2017 compensation each accounted for 2.5 percent of MTC’s annual expenses.
When Meadow joined MTC in 1972, with a starting annual salary of $10,400, it was housed at the Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street, the current site of the Czech Consulate, Czech Center and other organizations. Grove was hired in 1975. MTC moved to New York City Center in 1984, where it continues to operate two off-Broadway theaters. Meadow has made MTC a home for the playwrights Terrence McNally, David Auburn, Beth Henley, David Lindsay-Abaire and John Patrick Shanley. All won Pulitzer Prizes or nominations for MTC-produced work.
On Broadway, MTC had a hit with Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes in 2017, starring Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney switching off in the lead roles. But the following season included the poorly received revue Prince of Broadway and the acclaimed play The Children, both of which suffered at the box office. The season left MTC with a $2.6 million, or 8 percent, decline in unrestricted net assets, which are assets an organization controls.
“Survival is always an issue,” Meadow said in a 2015 interview with Casey Childs of Primary Stages — a risk that applies to most U.S. nonprofit arts institutions. Although MTC had relatively modest investments of $11 million as of June 2018, it has no debt, unlike the Roundabout and Second Stage Theater. MTC was able to sell the naming rights for the Broadway house it took over and rehabilitated, earning $12 million by renaming the Biltmore Theatre the Samuel J. Friedman.
Not-for-profit leaders forego the potential windfall that commercial producers earn from a blockbuster, in favor of a job with steady income. Yet some company trustees and foundation leaders privately call the biggest nonprofit packages excessive, the appearance of which can deter donors.
Complicating the issue: there aren’t standard formulas for setting salaries. In their tax returns, nonprofits try to establish what the IRS calls “the presumption of reasonableness,” which generally involves an outside consultant making recommendations to a board committee based on compensation at comparable organizations.
Leaders of the biggest New York theaters aren’t kings of cultural compensation, but they do well relatively speaking. Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, earned $2.2 million in 2017, just over twice as much as Bishop, while presiding over a budget nearly seven times that of Lincoln Center Theater. Likewise, Deborah Borda, who became chief executive and president of the New York Philharmonic in September 2017, had compensation of $585,000 in the last four months of the year. The orchestra generates double the revenue of LCT and requires about four times the fundraising.
Internally, the pay gap between the top and bottom at organizations remains formidable, although there’s been adjustment at the low end. The Roundabout pays $15 an hour to so-called apprentices, who work full-time in various departments and are expected to be college graudates or have comparable work experience. That’s the New York City minimum wage, and those who can’t make ends meet earning it — presumably everyone — can apply for an additional $6,000 season-long “cost of living scholarship.” The Public Theater recently upped the hourly rate for its part-time front-desk attendants, from $16 to $18, according to a spokeswoman.
The Public has been awarding larger raises, percentage-wise, to Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. In 2017, he earned $659,000 in salary and benefits. That’s up 72 percent from 2014, the year before Hamilton transformed its finances. The downtown and Central Park institution gets a cut of box office and profits for its developmental role in the blockbuster and posted an operating surplus of $28 million over the two seasons ending in August 2018. As I previously reported, construction is underway for Public Studios — a new rehearsal and audition space on Lafayette Street.
Here is a sampling of 2017 pay at other theater institutions:
Cora Cahan, who retired this year as founding president and chief executive of The New 42nd Street, got a 3 percent increase to $593,000. Spokeswoman Allison Mui said of Cahan’s 29-year tenure: “Her success was evaluated in terms of the revitalization of 42nd Street, the growth and development of the New Victory Theater and its education programs, the construction, development and management of the New 42nd Street Studios and its services to artists, and by the ongoing stability and reputation of the company.”
Cahan recently was named president of the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Her successor at New 42nd Street, Russell Granet, earned $625,000 in 2017 as an executive vice president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He later became acting president of Lincoln Center.
Vicki Reiss, executive director of the Shubert Foundation, got salary and benefits of $551,000, up 11 percent from 2016. The foundation of Broadway’s largest landlord gives away $32 million annually to performing arts organizations.
Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group, earned $693,000, including $560,000 salary and $100,000 bonus. He took over in 2005, after running the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Earlier this month, he was the subject of a blistering attack by Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty, who questioned the quality and consistency of offerings under Ritchie’s stewardship of CTG, which includes the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre.
Mandy Greenfield, an MTC alumna, earned $286,000 in pay and benefits atop Williamstown. With an annual budget of just $4 million, it developed three plays opening on Broadway this season: The Sound Inside, a revival of The Rose Tattoo with Marisa Tomei at the Roundabout and Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons at Second Stage Theater.
And New York Theatre Workshop developed three high-profile Broadway transfers this year: Hadestown, the 2019 Tony Award-winning musical, Heidi Schreck’s unexpected hit What the Constitution Means to Me and Slave Play. NYTW’s artistic director, James Nicola, was paid a relatively modest $178,000 — prudent for a company with no investments as of June 2018, besides $3.7 million in cash.
Second Stage Theater Artistic Director Carole Rothman took a 50 percent pay cut, to $191,000 in 2017, the year the company was renovating the Helen Hayes Theater. As of August 2018, Second Stage raised $46.2 million of its $70 million goal to purchase and renovate the Broadway house and set up a fund for play development, education and audience outreach. Second Stage has yet to sell the naming rights to the venue, which has a $16.5 million mortgage. Executive Director Casey Reitz’s compensation was unchanged at $258,000. He’s exiting for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, where he’s due to start in December.
Second Stage is presenting the Steppenwolf Theatre Co. production of Tracy Letts’ play Linda Vista. Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna Shapiro earned $323,000 in 2017, up 2 percent. At Chicago’s largest theater company, the Goodman Theatre, Artistic Director Robert Falls earned $598,000, up 5 percent.
Diane Paulus earned $332,000 as artistic director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard, up 2 percent from 2016. Paulus directs Jagged Little Pill, which begins previews on Sunday at the Broadhurst Theatre and premiered last year at A.R.T.