Starting up new plays
This week I went to see the new short play by Jennifer Rumberger performed at the Gift Theatre's Ten. Jennifer, your play rocked.
Afterwards, I gathered with LRP members Jessy and Jenni for a drink at Fischman Liquors. If you dig awesome beer and an arena-style bar setup, get out to Jefferson Park and grab a stool at this place.
For those who are unfamiliar, Ten is an annual celebration of The Gift, in which a group of playwright friends write 10-minute plays as birthday presents to the company. The artists work for free, and admission is also free of charge. It’s how The Gift begins each new year.
This was on my mind as we sat and sipped drinks next-door. LRP is also starting a new year, and we’ve been having a lot of conversations about things like money. Talking about art and revenue is often uncomfortable for us, and I’m sure there will always be times we produce work — like at Ten — just for the love of it.
The problem is, at this point working for free isn’t something we do just once a year. We do it constantly.
I’ve been reading a lot of words and listening to a lot of conversations about startup companies. As a Bay Area native, the concepts of venture capital firms and angel investors are not foreign to me. With theatre, however, we’re not going to be able to offer investors an attractive financial return. Very often, theatres follow the non-profit model, which any stroll through Howlround will show is riddled with problems, now more than ever. It’s also common to work without any compensation in exchange for artistic freedom, and keep full-time hours doing something totally outside of one’s career path.
LRP thinks it is important to pay artists for their time. We make it an unquestionable point to offer, however minuscule, some sort of stipend to our actors and directors. It is not, however, nearly enough for the quality of work produced, or even just the number of hours spent.
I am more and more intrigued with artistic companies that choose to forgo the non-profit route, and instead find ways to generate revenue and offer compensation (albeit modest) using a for-profit model.
Much has changed for artists these days, especially those who self-produce. I often find myself asking: what is the best model to follow now? How should artists be paid? How can theatre companies, many of which have liquidized in the past decade, offer something to the world that is exciting enough that people are willing to financially support it?
Catherine Cusick directed me towards the fascinating changes that are happening with Galapagos Art Space, which is moving from Dumbo to Detroit — no small shift — in order to continue working in the way that feels right to them. While I’m not directly familiar with the company, the whole concept of it struck a chord.
I also recall, when I was co-directing Cardboard Box Theatre Project in San Jose, I had a conversation with Cheri Lakey of Anno Domini. Cheri and Brian Eder (great Forbes article on them here) have been major players in revitalizing the SoFa district of downtown SJ (which after the recession, resembled something of a ghost town), through the curation and presentation of alternative visual art and music, in gallery spaces as well as in their colossal SubZERO festival, among other things. They’d also become friends of our company and its work.
I told Cheri, “Cardboard is thinking of incorporating as a non-profit.”
She looked at me and said, “Why?”
It was a good question.