Some thoughtful insights into the current theater situation. Just an opinion for late Summer.
Subscribe Now! by Danny Newman (which, for some reason, is still in print) changed the landscape of regional theaters in 1977, and theaters never looked back. They had found the holy grail of funding, so why would you assume anything would change? In case you need to become more familiar with the book, Mr. Newman laid out a plan to encourage theater patrons to pre-purchase a year's worth of tickets, often tied to specific nights. So, on the third Thursday of a month, far in the future, you, the patron, were committing to attending whatever happened to be playing at the theater. There were variations on the plan, but the basics were money first and theater second.
This scheme allowed theaters the resources to hire staff and plan the year's productions. Basically, it spent money it had not earned yet. In fact, the accounting procedures required that the subscription income be divided into individual productions and only spent on the expenses associated with each show. But there are many ways to get around or entirely ignore those rules. I have heard of and known more than one theater that used too much money on that "ground-breaking" new musical and reconceived revival of a seminal play.
Another problem used to be over-subscribing combined with the above spending pattern. I ran the box office many years ago at a summer theater that over-subscribed or presold all the seats for every production month in advance. The seats were full when the shows opened, and the cash register was empty. The Managing Director was in a panic. There was no cash flow since the subscription money was basically gone.
So what could have been done? Well, the writing was on the wall for many years that subscription income was sinking lower and lower each year. As a fundraiser, more emphasis could have been put on individual giving. They were helping theatergoers buying single tickets understand that it took far more than their ticket price to produce the production and support the organization. At the same time, accepting that subscription was a dying form. With that in mind, while maintaining the artistic vision of the organization, understanding that "bigger" art is not the answer to enticing lapsed subscription buyers back into the fold.
Let alone the corporatization of art organizations has caused many more issues, but that is a different post. Here is a NYT article that might be of interest - https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/29/theater/theater-subscribers-losses.html?smid=url-share