Lawmakers Aim to Prop Up Live Theater Scene in Boston with Tax Credits

Reps wants to bring more big productions to Boston theaters.

Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House via Mass. Office of Tourism

The Boston live theater scene is in an unusual position.

The city’s arts czar Julie Burros wrote in the Boston Globe last week that the city has the unique performance venue problem of having too many seats for one kind of theater and not enough for other kinds. In her piece, Burros said that the city is looking at ways to bring about more collaborations between theater groups of varying sizes and individual venues. Some venues are built to support Broadway-scale productions and some are built for opera, while others are built for ballet and experimental theater. Burros said that the city is commissioning a study to review the state of Boston’s live performance scene. It will, among other things, look at the split between for-profit and non-profit seats, which is how the city measures that statistic, versus by theater.

The city, it seems, has a glut of large-scale facilities and a shortage of mid-sized and smaller venues for non-profit productions. The larger venues are struggling to attract big productions for extended runs, forcing some theaters, such as Emerson College’s classic Colonial Theatre, to consider renovation.

Meanwhile, on Beacon Hill, Rep. Nick Collins of South Boston and Rep. Paul McMurtry of Dedham, both Democrats, filed legislation earlier this year that would grant tax credits of up to $3 million to large scale pre-Broadway productions that run for at least 10 weeks at a local theater. States like Illinois, Rhode Island, and Louisiana have similar tax credits for live theater productions. Collins and McMurtry recently testified in support of the bill before the Joint Committee on Revenue.

The proposal sailed through the legislature in 2014 as part of the jobs bill but was ultimately killed by the veto pen of Governor Deval Patrick. In a statement, Governor Charlie Baker said his office will review any legislation that reaches his desk but did not specifically address the live theater tax credit bill. Baker is an opponent of a similar tax credit that exists for the film industry, which survived the latest attempt to kill it this spring when the House and Senate kept it intact in the latest state budget.

In an interview, Collins said this bill is crafted in a manner to avoid any of the controversies associated with the film tax credit.

“The Commonwealth has lost an increasing number of large theater productions as more and more companies are taking their shows to those states offering these tax incentives, resulting in lost revenue and fewer jobs. This legislation will allow Massachusetts to compete with those states and bring pre-Broadway theater productions back to our state, thereby creating badly needed jobs in our creative economy and tourism industries,” said Collins in a statement.

The bill is currently before the Joint Committee on Revenue.