In Bid to Create New Revenue Stream, Israel's National Theater Moves Into Lecture Business

Academics have been receiving letters from Habima offering to share profits on lectures it will organize in outlying areas.

Habima Square.
Ofer Vaknin

Israel’s national theater, Habima, has recently asked a number of academics from various fields to build a series of lectures it can market for a fee to audiences at cultural centers in outlying areas, in the same way it markets performances. The request, which Haaretz has obtained, promises that the theater will turn over about half the proceeds from ticket sales to the lecturers.

Academics who received such a letter expressed anger that Habima was exceeding its function as a theater and attempting to compete in the field of lectures.

Habima, like many theaters and cultural centers in Israel and abroad, holds lectures in its premises, but never before has it sold and marketed them separately. This is apparently an attempt to open a new channel of revenue in light of the theater’s difficult economic straits.

In a letter to lecturers the project’s head, Irit Kolbek, wrote: “Sales of lectures by this method makes it possible for all sides to enjoy full confidence in income ahead of time and effective management of schedules a year ahead.”

Kolbek wrote the lecturers: “To allow you to enjoy maximum profit for the lecture, without significant risk to the theater, we have built a unique remuneration model that gives you 50 percent of all income from ticket sales for your lecture. This clear model will allow you to maximize your income from the sale of various series throughout the country.”

One lecturer who received such a letter told Haaretz: “This is not the role of a theater, not only a national theater, not only to deal with this, but to share in the lecturer’s income.”

The proposal for lecturers to share in profits was surprising to some, because some of the other entities marketing such lectures pay a set fee and also take a variable commission, and do not offer to share profits with lecturers.

Although the letters have already been sent, the project’s organizers told Haaretz the idea, while a right and proper one, was still being formulated. “This is a project being led by Habima Director General Odelia Friedman,” sources said. “We have not yet built our method, we still do not have pricing and we have not included the cultural centers. This is only a preliminary thought, talks have not been held and it won’t happen before January.”

A statement by Habima said the project was a “welcome idea” and that such lectures “are an integral and important part of the cultural world and as is known, Habima as a national theater gives the audience additional levels of culture besides theater – which is, of course, its main area of activity.”

Habima said the lectures would be “given at times when the theater is not hosting plays, which as is known take place in the evenings, and we are proud of this.” Habima said the business plan is being built in consultation with the accountant overseeing Habima’s activities and “will allow the audience to enjoy quality lectures at reduced prices both at Habima and in outlying areas, with the theater also earning its part.”