Friday, June 18, 2010

A Kick in the Pants

Boy howdy, am I dense.

I blogged the other day about Spot.Us, an online micro-donation facilitator used by journalists to fund their work.  I opined about how nice it would be if someone would set up a similar service for live theatre.  I joked that such a thing probably already existed.

I posted an update yesterday about Kickstarter, "A new way to fund & follow creativity."  A friend of a friend is using the service to get a new theatre company off the ground, 3Monkeys.

So, I'm an idiot.  The Ahimsa Collective -- a talented group of individuals I know first hand and not just as friends of friends -- they have used Kickstarter a few times this year.  I had some dim recollection of those guys using some sort of online donation service, but it didn't register until I began searching through the returns for "theater" and "theatre" on Kickstarter.  All apologies, guys.  I can be very myopic at times.

My research into Kickstarter continues.  I ran across this great article from The New York Times: "You, Too, Can Bankroll a Band."  This funding model meshes well with my pet philosophy of theatre (i.e., "It's the audience, stupid!"):  "Fans 'are not buying music, they’re buying a personalized experience,' said Yancey Strickler, a Kickstarter co-founder."  Hear, hear!

What theatre has over movies and television -- and I would argue, what Under-99 theatre has over LORT and larger theatre -- is the personal connection between audience and artist.  This was brought home to me in New York, through the religious experience that is Theatre  For One.

I read about Theatre For One in Stage Directions:
In the center of the New York City Theater District, acclaimed Broadway set designer Christine Jones will debut "Theatre for One," a four foot by nine foot portable theatre with one performer playing to one audience member. The uniquely intimate theatrical experience will be available to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis between May 14–23, 2010 in Times Square.
SCORE! I had a business trip that put me in New York on May 16th.

Theatre for One in Times Square.

I got to the queue just in time to be shut out, but managed to talk my way into the final performance of the day. A poetry reading, I must confess I missed the first half of the performer's words. I was so struck by the intimacy and immediacy of the experience, I think I forgot how to breathe.

My goofy mug upon emerging from the venue.

I may not remember the details of the poem, but I cannot forget the performer's eyes.

Our serviceable mission statement at Theatre Unleashed commits us to "striving to reach that emotional resonance with our audience that only live theatre can create."  The dead horse on this blog bears further beating:  Theatre is relevant only so long as it serves the audience.  Integrating a service such as Kickstarter into an end-user-based funding model places the ensemble before that audience at the very beginning of the process.

To quote marketing guru Seth Godin, "the act of paying fundamentally changes the dynamics of the relationship."  One of the most frustrating things for me as "President Moore" has been the attempt to involve the audience in the process of making theatre.  "Read the blogs!  Watch the videos!  Tell us what YOU think!"  Involving the audience in direct funding of the project would actually invest them in the project, in fact and in spirit.

Further, I believe it would revitalize any ensemble to be made accountable to the People in the Dark well in advance of "Ladies and gentlemen, the house is now open."  Can you imagine it?  If the Main Stage selections you put on Kickstarter are not funded by the deadline, they don't get produced.  Boom.  You have to engage the audience before they so much as pick up a postcard for the production at their local coffee shop.

And that's just one side of the coin.  The other side:  Competing with other artists.  Sure, it's a gentle, friendly competition wherein everyone can get funded.  Yet, I encourage you to go to Kickstarter and browse through the projects up for funding.  Not just the theatre projects; all of them.  To have your project listed in that incredible marketplace demands you bring your best.

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