TDF: Supporting Theatre On Broadway & Off 

Helene Montagna 

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear TDF? Most likely discounted Broadway tickets for members. TDF is dedicated to supporting live theatre in all of New York City, from Manhattan to Staten Island. Two of the ways TDF dedicates to helping theatres beyond the Great White Way are through a video project called “Meet The Theatre” and through a discounted ticketing program called “Off-Off @ $9.”
First, just a little TDF background. Theatre Development Fund, more commonly known as TDF, is a non-profit organization created with the conviction that the live theatrical arts afford a unique expression of the human condition that must be sustained and nurtured. Since its inception in 1968, TDF has subsidized more than 900 plays and musicals, including 32 productions that later became Pulitzer Prize-winners. 

Last January, Mark Blankenship, Web Content Editor and Editor-In-Chief of TDF Stages, was in a staff meeting where he brainstormed with colleagues about how to better support Off-Off-Broadway theatre companies in New York City.  Thus, the video project “Meet The Theatre” was born.

“Meet The Theatre” is a feature on TDF’s online magazine, Stages, in which a short video, produced by TDF, highlights an Off-Off Broadway theatre company.  “Each video highlights a theatre company as a whole, not a specific show,” Blankenship, a theatre journalist for the past ten years, said. Many smaller theatre companies simply don’t have the resources or marketing budgets to put together such a useful promotional tool. The short videos focus on reflecting the spirit and style of the individual theatres, rather than just their current production. Once the video has been completed, TDF gives the video to the theatre company to use as they need.  The videos can be used on their websites, social media and for grant applications. “I like to think of them as calling cards,” Blankenship, who produces and directs the videos, added.

“Meet The Theatre” focuses on how the work is made and what artists care about in telling a story for the stage. “I love sitting down and listening to artists,” Blankenship said. An important goal for “Meet The Theatre” is to encourage theatregoers to have a relationship with the theatre company.  When patrons become familiar with the style and mission of a specific company, they will return to see future shows. The videos vary in style, according to the mission and scope of work for each individual company. Each video is a mix of interviews with the artists and clips from some recent work or work in progress. The videos are more beneficial than, say, your typical promotional spot or video for a specific production, because they never expire.
TDF Stages is an online publication with a very diverse audience reach.   Approximately three to four new stories are added weekly to the magazine, which reaches anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000. TDF Stages has many different categories for Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.  One of their featured categories, entitled “Borough Play,” is an exclusive series, highlighting theatre in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. TDF believes it’s important to inform the theatre community about productions outside the “big city” and does just that with “Borough Play.” 

Another way TDF is helping the Off-Off-Broadway community fill their houses is through a discounted ticketing program called “Off-Off @ $9.” Through this program, show producers can offer a limited number of tickets for sale for just $9.   How it works is simple: A producer registers the show with TDF, sets a certain number of tickets for sale at the $9 price and just waits for the ticket sales to come pouring in. The program is very flexible in that the producers are given access to their inventory and can change the amount of tickets for sale at that price at any time. The only thing that TDF requests is that all previous sales be honored at the discounted price.  Since the program was started in the Summer of 2009, this program has sold over 130,000 tickets to over 1000 productions. When it was originally introduced, it was only available to TDF members – it has since been expended to be available to the general public. “Off-Off @ $9” is also cross-promoted with the “Meet The Theatre” feature. “We want to motivate theatre goers and help theatre companies fill the house,” Victoria Bailey, executive director of TDF, said about the program.

“Artists love talking about their work and they love having people listen. I’m happy to be one of those listeners,” Blankenship said.  Next time you want to talk about your work, talk to TDF.
For further information, visit the TDF Stages site or the TDF website. (Note: Information about the “Off Broadway @ $9” can be found in the “For Your Production” section.)


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