Shouldn’t it be obvious that Josh Groban would swoop down into the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City to assemble his 60-city U.S.-Canada tour?
The 11-year-old arena on the banks of the Red River turned out to be a great setting for fine-tuning Groban’s “Straight To You” tour during two weeks in late April and early May, an estimated $14 million project, according to documents filed with the Louisiana Economic Development Office of Entertainment Industry, otherwise known as Louisiana Entertainment.
Just more than half of that amount was projected to be spent in the state, qualifying Novatour Groban LLC, the tour company, for up to 35 percent tax credits under the state’s live performance entertainment incentive program.
It’s estimated that the Bossier City rehearsal and subsequent tour kick-off show at the UNO Lakefront Arena on May 12 in New Orleans earned the tour company some $1.9 million in tax credits by participating in the incentive program.
The live performance incentive program that offers tax credits based on how much of the production costs happen within the state of Louisiana and by Louisiana workers is the first of its kind in the nation, say Louisiana Entertainment officials. Its largely patterned on the state’s popular film incentive program.
“The theatrical industry is a small industry and kind of rigid in their practices. And this kind of incentive is something that’s very new to them,” said Phillip Mann, director of Live Performance Industry Development at Louisiana Entertainment.
The interest in the state by the theater industry seems to be growing. The actual in-state production spending based on final certified projects came to $21,000 in 2008, $1 million in 2009 and $2.1 million in 2010, according to an analysis of the program by the BaxStarr consulting group.
In the next few weeks, the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts will become the creepy home for “The Addams Family.” The Broadway musical was picked up by Broadway Across America, a group that brings bold-faced musicals and plays to cities across the country. “The Addams Family” crew and cast will arrive in New Orleans at the end of August and spend roughly a month rehearsing for a 31-city U.S.-Canada tour — with New Orleans, once again, serving as a launch-pad for the national tour.
“It’s a real feather in our cap that the show has chosen New Orleans,” said David Skinner, general manager of the Mahalia Jackson Theater. “On a production of this scale, it’s never happened in New Orleans.”
The show’s rehearsal and staging in New Orleans is expected to cost some $5.7 million, with $4 million of this amount as Louisiana expenditures and salaries for Louisiana workers, according to documents filed with Louisiana Entertainment.
“The Addams Family” represents the state’s first entrée into the world of assembling a Broadway musical for a national tour, a sizable undertaking generally reserved for industry stalwarts in the New York area, Mann said.
By their nature, national Broadway tours are a risky venture, he added, which makes the state’s incentive offer that much more alluring.
“You’re talking about an exceedingly large amount of money you put into the production up front. In other words, you have to fully capitalize your production, fully build it out. You can spend, frankly, tens of millions of dollars trying to get one of these shows to go, to get ready to go on the road. And unless it’s a juggernaut, you don’t even know if you are going to recoup your investment,” Mann said.
“And so as a result, what we have with the incentives, we have the ability to lure these major productions to Louisiana to do an extensive amount of time doing all of their rehearsing, hiring all local crew, staying in the hotels,” he added. “Now, keeping in mind that one of the reasons it’s attractive to come down here is things are considerably cheaper than they are, obviously, in the tri-state area where much of this stuff originates.”
Production incentives are but one component of the program to grow the live performance theater industry in the state, which for now seems fixated on New Orleans.
The program includes another component intended to grow what’s known in the industry as infrastructure, in other words: theater spaces.
In Louisiana, this has mostly translated to a boom for theater preservation. Perhaps the most broadly watched and anxiously anticipated event of post-Katrina New Orleans will be the reopening this fall of the Saenger Theatre. It’s been closed since 2005, undergoing a $47 million renovation. The 84-year-old Canal Street icon, which stood for decades nearly at the center of New Orleans theater culture, is undergoing a massive renovation to restore it to its Vaudeville days.
The project qualifies for federal recovery grants as well as tax credits from the state amounting to 25 percent of construction costs.
“Honestly, I think it will be dramatic,” Mann said of the impact the Saenger’s renovation could have on the state’s ability to draw substantial Broadway-caliber shows. “And it’s worth noting that the damage to the Saenger was the impetus for the legislation that governs that program.”
The Stage Door Canteen at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans may be the best example so far of a project that used the incentives to build the space and now use the production incentives for staging shows, Mann said.
“As a result of that, they have now produced three or four original shows using the production incentives,” he explained.
The Stage Door Canteen cost roughly $13 million to build and earned tax credits amounting to $3,358,000, said Becky Mackie, vice president and chief financial officer for the National WWII Museum. The theater’s signature show, “Let Freedom Swing,” has a cast of eight and cost $535,000 to stage. It earned credits of $106,000, which comes to 20 percent of its eligible costs. The museum also certified two other shows: “The Victory Belles” and more recently “On the Air,” with combined production costs of $256,000, earning tax credits of 10 percent. That comes to $25,688.
“Funds from the tax credits will be used to develop future productions at the Stage Door Canteen, keeping performers employed at? the National World War II Museum and furthering our mission to tell the story of America during WWII,” Mackie said in an email.