Gov. Maura Healey wants to create a new tax credit to help community theaters offset operating costs, attract more talent and expand their offerings.

A proposal tucked into Healey's $750 million tax-cut package, filed as part of her preliminary budget proposal for the next fiscal year, calls for creating a $5 million tax credit program for theaters and other live performance venues. The money could be used to help with costs associated with payroll, transportation and production.

Singing the praises of the live theater tax credit was Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Salem’s former mayor, during a talk about the proposed budget's highlights before the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce last week at Cruiseport Gloucester on Rowe Square.

“There’s a live theater tax credit,” Driscoll told business leaders and elected officials. “You know, so much of our creative economy relies on performances and they were so harmed during the pandemic. We want to make sure we can help with the things that are required when you are trying to support a live theater house.”

Driscoll singled out the Gloucester Stage Company with praise, along with the seaport’s connection to the creative economy.

Live theater operators say they welcome the state's help as they recover from the lingering impacts of the pandemic and seek to attract more live productions and patrons.

“Massachusetts is well positioned as a tryout market for professional productions on their way to Broadway, Off-Broadway and beyond," Gloucester Stage Managing Director Christopher Griffith wrote in an email. "Gloucester Stage has experienced some of that success over the past four decades.” 

Gloucester Stage is a professional, nonprofit theater company located in a century-old brick warehouse at 267 East Main St. in East Gloucester. It presents contemporary plays and classics that have moved on to commercial productions in New York and Paris, according to its website.

J. Casey Soward, executive director of The Cabot theater in Beverly, also lauded the efforts.

"Many live theaters are still struggling, so any advantage that we can have to bring in ancillary revenue is absolutely critical," Soward said. "It's something that's been sought for a while, and we're really appreciative that the state is taking this seriously."

Soward said the funds will help attract pre-Broadway productions to local theaters while they prepare to embark on nationwide tours.

The state's tourism and entertainment industries were hammered hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic and government restrictions that shut down many businesses in early 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Collectively, the losses totaled tens of millions of dollars, according to industry figures.

Offering tax credits to traveling productions will help lure bigger shows to the state, which will benefit The Cabot and other local theaters that are desperately trying to fill seats, Soward said.

While the state offers a tax credit to movie production studios — which doles out tens of millions of dollars a year to Hollywood productions — there is no such tax credit for community theaters.

Unlike the film tax credit, which has been criticized as a giveaway to Hollywood studios, the live theater tax credit would have an outsized impact on the local economy, backers say.

"We had a Broadway tour come to Beverly and the cast came in a week before the performance and spent thousands of dollars in our downtown," Soward said. "It really creates a vibe when you host these kinds of performances, and that has benefits for both the live theaters and the cities and towns hosting them."

He said other states like Rhode Island have had tax credits for live theaters in place for years, which has helped them attract major performances.

Details of Healey's theater tax credit plan haven't been finalized, and the proposal could be altered during House and Senate sessions.

A similar proposal was filed in the previous two-year legislative session, and even made it into a House-approved version of a massive economic development bill. But the plan failed to win final approval amid a disagreement between then-Gov. Charlie Baker and legislative leaders over a package of tax reforms.

Michael J. Bobbitt, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said Healey's plan shows that her new administration is committed to "supporting and amplifying the commonwealth’s creative and cultural sector with their programs, policies and funding recommendations."

"The governor’s live theater tax credit proposal shows that she means what she says," Bobbitt said. "Any conversation on Beacon Hill that aims to provide an economic boost to local theaters — generating work for the artists and creatives that make these venues thrive — is something that we want to engage in."

Staff writer Ethan Forman contributed to this report by Christian M. Wade, who covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email Wade at

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