Cowan Palace: Hey Assholes, Ready for a Fight?

Ashley Cowan balances hugs and cuddles with blades and waves.

I’ve never been much of a pot stirrer. I’m either seasoning that pot into a delicious savory dish or I’m burning my mouth to devour what’s inside it because I’m starving. But making a point to cause a heated commotion? Eh, it’s not exactly my thing.

Growing up, I always valued kindness above everything else. I believed that nice guys finished last only because the best things are saved for the end. Even now, I’m the kind of person who can’t sleep because I’m worried I forgot send someone a happy birthday greeting on Facebook.

But I realize “being nice” isn’t exactly an ideal trait to possess in a creative circle known to praise voices who are outspoken, artistic, and bold. And often I find that because I’m not speaking out of anger, my voice tends to go unheard.

Except in RENT, where I got a microphone.

Except in RENT, where I got a microphone.

Maybe my blog and my general lifestyle don’t scream in raging profanities. Sure, I watch a whole lot of terrible reality television and endless videos of adorable animals doing adorable things. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a valuable member of this community too. And it doesn’t mean my voice deserves to be talked over just because someone else is speaking louder.

It’s been an unfortunate understanding to realize that often people assume because I’m nice, I’m also stupid. Not like a moron, just sweetly stupid and naive. Ignorance is bliss, you know what I mean? And sometimes that sucks for me. Just because I’m kind it doesn’t mean that I care any less about making this community stronger and better than what it is right now. Yes, I’m aware it’s far from perfect, but I often chose to view it with optimism instead of getting drunk and yelling about it. I want to thoughtfully problem solve. I want to be a part of the conversation. I want to make positive changes.

Plus, why do I have to be angry all the time to make this a better theater scene? If we’re aiming to have more honest conversations, why does honesty need to equate anger? I appreciate those of you who get fired up and burn to encourage change, I do. But if we all go around starting fires everywhere we step, pretty soon every theater will be made of ash and we won’t have a place to play.

See those fences? They guard the ashes.

See those fences? They guard the ashes.

And, I want to work again! Preferably here. If I trash talk everything, who is going to want to work with me? Besides, the real truth is, I’m not exactly in a position where I can get away with always speaking truthfully about every poor production I’ve been a part of or every performance I haven’t really cared for, especially in such a public forum. I’ve learned when to hold my tongue and when to inquire its service in helping me to address a concern.

But to all those pot stirrers out there looking to pick a fight, I just ask that you think about what you’re fighting for. Does every conversation we have about the current status of Bay Area theater need to end in an online and/or offline shouting match in order to make a statement? I’m fighting but my war tactics differ. And I’m going to keep on my kindness train because it’s what I do. In any case, I’d like to think we’re still all on the same side and I hope this is a fight we can win together.

Ashley can cheer too.

Ashley can cheer too.

Working Title: Chatter, Abortion, and Bay Area Blah Blah Blah

Will Leschber talks around our creative babies.

You hear that? You can’t hear that?! Oh it’s getting loud. That’s Bay Area chatter. That chatter is the building discussion of the future of theatre in the Bay Area. Where are we? Where are we headed? Who in the area is steering the ship. Can we just get some damn people to care about this flexing vessel that so many Bay Area artist call their home community. Many do care and that’s why I suppose so many conversations have surfaced. The list I’ve witnessed goes something like: Brad Erickson’s Executive Director’s note in this month Theatre Bay Area magazine; to a round table discussion of Theatre Pub bloggers (Claire Rice is crazy well-informed on this ; to the new podcast sensation “Born Ready” with Rob Ready and Ray Hobbs (the episode with fellow T-Pub blogger Allison Page was quite good.); and on to casual conversations I’ve had among friends. If you listen…the conversation will come!

07-08_2014_Cover_YM

The conversation breaks upon a macro levels and micro levels. The TBA Executive Director’s note will tell you, “For far too many, the particular power of theatre is largely unrealized.” It’s wonderful to begin the discussion with an overarching statement like this but it doesn’t give me any direction to work towards. It encompasses everything but helps us fix nothing. The point of the note isn’t to fix everything; it’s to address an issue, which it successfully does. Discussing small micro issues can be more beneficial and to the point. Or maybe just that addressing one specific point can be more productive.

Take for example Velina Brown in her July/August TBA column, “The Business of Show Biz”. She gracefully speaks to a concerned reader about ‘Feminism vs Career’. A young actress writes in to say, “My problem is I am mostly cast as victims of some sort–domestic violence, rape, etc…I want my work to show more positive images of women, but I also don’t want my career to come to a screeching halt while I wait for the few strong women’s roles to come around. What do I do?” Velina wisely addresses the issue. She comes to the point that individual artists have to decide which roles are worthy of their artistic goals and stresses the benefits of maintain integrity while navigating accepting or politely passing on a project Brown says, “the bottom line is you have to live with the ramifications of your choices. If the idea of doing a project doesn’t feel good to you, don’t do it. Sure, you ‘ll have to make touch choices at times. We all do.” Addressing this one specific topic and insisting on maintaining artistic integrity on an individual basis is just as important as an overarching general conversation. Moreover, it can improve the larger theatre scene by progressing the stories playwrights/producers choose to tell instead of remaining mired in tired portrayals that too often appear on stage.

Reading this column reminded me of the wonderful new indie film, Obvious Child. Talk about turning a tired genre on it’s ear… Obvious Child is being marketed as the “best romantic comedy about abortion that you’ll ever see!” Now I know, you are thinking What the fuck?! Just wait. I’m telling you, you should go out of your way to see this. It’s possible the funniest film of the year. Also it tells a familiar story in a genuinely fresh way with a new unique voice. Jenny Slate plays the lead role as a 20 something comedienne whose unexpected pregnancy forces her to deal with her issues and bridging the gap into adulthood.

Obvious_Child

You may know Jenny Slate from her television work (Parks and Rec, Married) or possible her notorious single season on SNL in which she let slip on air the F-bomb. Her contract was not renewed. If not there you may recognize her voice as the viral phenomenon Marcel the Shell. It would have been easy to typecast Slate as a nasally voiced annoying bitch best friend, but she’s so much more than that. This odd comedienne/actress was actually the valedictorian of her university! She’s smart, funny and has created/worked on a myriad of projects ranging from critically acclaimed variety shows, to podcasting with her long time comedy partner (and husband), Dean Fleischer-Camp, to animated shorts and voice work, then on to diverse acting roles. These culminate in Obvious Child. Jenny Slate’s multi-talents help layer her character with depth, humor, crass vulnerability, raw emotion and exuberant empathy. She may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Slate’s character is nothing if not a fully realized and worthy of your time.

In all the chatter about the future of theater in the bay or spotlight indie films, we still need to remember that what we choose to see and the individual artistic choices we make all have consequences. If we are building something together, we should be conscious of our shared influence. Both Velina Brown’s advice and the thematic through-line of Jenny’s Slate’s Obvious Child ultimately comes down to making an informed decision and then realizing that our choices have consequences. Slate’s character takes a risk and continues on her path in the wake of that risk. Brown wants us as actors to think about how our role choices could affect out future careers. Decide what you want, put yourself out there and live confidently in the choice made.

Theater Around The Bay: A Community Conversation

Barbara Jwanouskos steps outside of her usual role at the Pub to talk about the recent developments at Intersection for the Arts.

Last Tuesday, July 15th, I attended the Community Conversation about the future of Intersection for the Arts. I’m sure you all have heard the recent news that Intersection has had to substantially cut back on its programming. Initially, longtime program staff, Kevin Chen, Rebeka Rodriguez and Sean San Jose had been laid off, but then changed to furloughed positions.

For a little background before I get into it, Intersection for the Arts holds a special place in my heart because it was the organization that I first got involved with once I had graduated from UCSB about ten years ago. I didn’t know which direction to go in or how one even pursued arts, much less made a career out of it. I worked as an intern with Campo Santo, Intersection for the Arts’ resident theater company, for a number of years. I grew from being insecure and shy about being a theater maker to feeling confident. It’s because of the hands-on learn-by-doing education I received here, that I have progressed to where I am now.

When I first learned the news about the threat of closure, I was in shock. Literally, I had no words to say about it for a long time, other than to friends and family. It’s taken me a while to process all of what’s happened, and I’m not even in the middle of it. I went to Intersection’s community conversation last night because I needed to learn what was going on and how I could help.

I am in a very different place than I was ten years ago or even five years ago. Ten years ago, I didn’t have money, but I had a bit of time to come up to San Francisco from San Jose and work on productions. Then, I got a job, and the situation reversed, I didn’t have time, but I could support Intersection through donations, by attending performances, and spreading the word about the work they do with artists. Then, with the move to Pittsburgh, I was out of the loop of most Bay Area theater and arts conversations. I’m back now, but am unemployed and access to arts, theater, and even San Francisco feels like a luxury that I have to constantly weigh. Will I have enough money to pay for groceries if I travel from an hour away to see my friends’ performances?

Last night’s conversation was the first of many conversations the organization hopes to have with the community. Looking around the room, it was a veritable Who’s Who of San Francisco theater, arts, music, and community organizers. We were given a bit of information on what is currently happening. Intersection is being led by a Transition Team made up of former program directors, board members, and other community partners. The goal of the evening was to look to the future. What was it about Intersection’s programs that was essential? How could people support? What resources could the organization draw upon?

We broke up into groups: Shared Spaces and New Models, Community Engagement, Fundraising, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts. I attended the Performing Arts group. Everyone seemed to agree that Intersection’s model of allowing artist to incubate for years while developing a new project was a key resource that was hard to find in other areas around town (though, it was also pointed out that other groups are also using or have adopted this model). Folks described their personal experiences with Intersection and how, like my own experience above, they really grew and became fully fledged artists by being involved in Intersection’s program.

Surprisingly the biggest issue that kept on being brought up in the discussion was whether Intersection for the Arts should or should not 1) have a space 2) keep the space they currently have at the old Chronicle building 3) should partner with organizations that have spaces 4) should explore entirely new models. The group was divided on whether to go forward in one particular direction.

There were vehement opinions that Intersection either needed to establish a space or forget trying to do that all together. Many pointed out that we are losing our artistic arts spaces and if Intersection had a space that was accessible to the community they serve, that would at least be one more space to see quality performances. Others added that it wasn’t just needed for performances, but space was needed for artists to develop, explore and be allowed to fail. Those on the other side of the debate, claimed that space doesn’t need to be as important if Intersection was allowed to extend its partnerships with other community organizations, schools that have unused theaters, arts organizations that run a theater already, etc. These partnerships were talked about as opportunities for Intersection to continue the cross-pollination or “intersection” of multiple disciplines that defined the organization.

This conversation made me wonder what other theater artists feel their largest issues are? Is it that you don’t have a space to create? That the scene is too silo-ed? Are there enough resources to go around? Give us your thoughts!

I ended up needing to leave before the large group gathered again, but there will be continuing conversations about the future of Intersection and what it will transform into. Another is scheduled for about a month later. Once more details of this are known, SF Theater Pub will share it with the public. For more information on Intersection for the Arts’ transition, click here and here.

Barbara Jwanouskos learned how to be a theater artist from Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts. She is a local playwright who writes for the blog series, “The Real World, Theater Edition” on San Francisco Theater Pub. You can follow her twitter @bjwany.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: Whole Lotta Farnsworths Goin’ On

Dave Sikula, knee deep in Farnsworth. 

In our last chapter, I was dealing with the controversy raised by my recent production of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Farnsworth Invention” in Palo Alto, and the larger issues it raised about the responsibilities of directors and how faithful they should be to the texts they’re working on.

Last winter and spring, the Palo Alto Museum of American Heritage had an exhibit on the history of television that was completely coincidental to our production. We approached them about cross-promoting each other’s events, and, through them, we learned that Philo’s nephew, Steve Player, lived in Palo Alto, just a couple of blocks from the theatre. We approached him and he agreed to not only share his memories (and some invaluable clippings and books) with the cast, but to also do a couple of audience talkbacks.

Steve talking about Phil at some other event.

Steve talking about Phil at some other event.

Well, this act was seen as an apparent betrayal by another branch of the Farnsworth family to no end, and, so bothered, they denounced Steve as a publicity hound (in spite of the fact that we had approached him, not vice versa). The branch of the family we heard from – which is to say, some of Philo’s direct descendents – has no use for the play at all, so my guess is that any member of the family who chooses to associate himself with it – no matter the context (in this case, to help debunk it) – is just asking for trouble. Personally, I was delighted to have him on board, and would have welcomed the participation of the others, even if they seemed to have no interest in helping us spread their own message.

What ultimately happened at our talkbacks, though, was most unexpected.

At the first one – following the first Thursday performance – we had, as expected, Steve. This in itself was a point of contention. Steve was – and is – a great guy, with personal and family information that couldn’t be gotten anywhere else. Even though Philo died when he was relatively young – and Steve didn’t have a lot of interaction with him about television, he gave us an invaluable sense of how much we were dealing with a story about a real person, not just some metaphorical “character” created to make a point about capitalism and creativity. That he was working with us at all made that other faction of the Farnsworth family, well, “pissed” is probably the best word.

The Thursday talkback.

The Thursday talkback.

What we didn’t know until just after that Thursday performance that Steve had brought Philo’s grandson,Philo Krishna Farnsworth, an act which probably put Krishna at odds with some of his siblings and cousins. As a part of a “truth squad” dedicated to spreading the truth about his grandfather’s inventions, he was, if not happy to help us, at the very least, charming and informative. (And let me hasten to add, he didn’t seem in the least like he didn’t want to be there. He told us how much he liked the show and what we had done.)

Krishna Farnsworth; a heckuva nice guy.

Krishna Farnsworth; a heckuva nice guy.

Now, the thing that I’ve experienced about talkbacks is that very few people stay, and those who do aren’t always really engaged, preferring to let the people on stage talk amongst themselves, and being content to ask the stereotypical “I thought you were all terrific, but how did you learn all those lines?” type questions. Not our patrons, though. A large percentage of them not only stayed, but were active questioners and participants – even the usher who wanted to assure us – in loud and no uncertain terms – that he’d been an engineer and that he knew for a fact that no one person invented television. We also had people who had been investors in the Farnsworth Television Company, and those who had known of Farnsworth and his work in real time, or similar inventors (we are doing the show in Silicon Valley, after all …). All in all, it was a great experience, and went well over a half-hour, far longer than the 20 minutes I thought we might be able to stretch it out to. That said, it was nothing like what we had after the Sunday performance.

A Farnsworth television set.

A Farnsworth television set.

While Krishna wasn’t able to return, we had one of Steve’s cousins, who is the daughter of one of the characters in the play, and a group of Farnsworths who knew they were somehow related to Phil and Steve, but who wanted to talk to the latter after the talkback to determine the exact relationship.

One of the questions – it was actually more of a comment – that came up in the callback struck a lot of buttons with me, though. The audience member wanted to know if it would have been possible to add a prologue or an epilogue to the show saying, in so many words, “none of this is true.”

And that sparks a piece that will take more words than today’s post can bear.

To be continued … yet again …

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Theatre Gets a Big Tax Break

Claire Rice has tax code stories on her Google Alerts.

Excellent news!!!

A tax relief program will begin this fall which could give theatre companies up to a 25% tax rebate on 80% of a production’s up-front budget costs ahead of its run. Touring shows will receive a 24% tax rebate. Other productions will be eligible for a 20% tax credit. It is intended to benefit both commercial and subsidized companies, who can claim their relief by either offsetting taxes or as a cash credit. The relief will be evaluated on a per production basis. It is hoped the tax relief plan will help the theatre industry to compete with cinema and television, which has enjoyed similar tax relief measures for years.

You just know this guy is going to use his rebate to do a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar"

You just know this guy is going to use his rebate to do a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”

An industry professional said: “Our desire is that this gives a boost to producing across theatre and other forms of performing arts such as dance and opera, and in particular that this helps regional theatre. There is an opportunity here to boots production, jobs and investment.”

The measure was first conceived in 2011 when tax credits for angel investors in small start ups were in the process of being reviewed. Lobbyists for the theatre industry called for a similar, but separate, review looking at tax breaks for the creative industries. That proposed relief would have been more about making investing in theatre attractive, while the relief that will go into effect on September 1st gives tax breaks directly to commercial and not-for-profit corporations.

Without a doubt, the most important part of this announcement is that the government is openly supporting the creation of art and it’s ongoing survival. “It’s a massive vote of confidence from the government,” said another industry insider. The big winner in this equation is touring companies, which means plays and productions will be able to survive longer and will be seen by more people.

Ah…wait. I’m sorry. I’m a bad reporter. All of this is happening in the UK.

It is good news for our friends across the pond who often have reason to crow. One of their major exports is, in fact, theatre. Though, while it may be a vote of confidence in the industry, it is also a little salve in the major wound of awful cuts to smaller subsidized theaters across the UK.

Still….le sigh.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have our president come out to his podium, smile, and say anything at all about theatre? Wasn’t it exciting to pretend, even for a moment, that our government was willing to throw us a bone?

A girl can dream.

For the real skinny on the tax relief plan: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/19/theatres-tax-break-15m-touring-productions-west-end-regional-chancellor-george-osborne

For more information on cuts to UK theatres: http://www.equity.org.uk/campaigns/my-theatre-matters/

If you haven’t bought tickets for Thunderbird Theatre Company’s upcoming production of SHOW DOWN! you should. Thunderbird Theatre Company is back with a new comedy and the battle for television has begun…on stage! To buy tickets click here now: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/751561

Everything Is Already Something Week 37: Honesty Is The Best Policy

Allison Page= iron fist in iron glove.

We’ve all been there: you’re working on a show (any end of it) and you’re feeling disgruntled, dissatisfied, and generally like a big old grouch, but you don’t feel like you can say anything. It’s not your place. No one wants your opinion. They want to rule from the top of a mountain covered with statues of their own faces cast in gold. You’re not in charge. Who cares what you think? So then you wait until the show is over, or until you’ve left the company, to bad-mouth everybody responsible for what you see as the downfall of a production or organization.

Leadership positions in arts organizations are weird. Well, leadership positions in any situation have the potential to get weird. Of course, if you’re happy to have people not tell you the truth, then it’s fine. There are all kinds of places I’ve worked (both in theater and other places) where no one was truthful with the people in charge for fear of getting fired, never being cast again, or just having someone be angry at them. But generally speaking, honesty is the best policy, right? Especially if you actually give a shit if your co-conspirators are happy with what they’re doing.

Allison is...FEARLESS LEADER! But, like, with a couple of fears.

Allison is…FEARLESS LEADER! But, like, with a couple of fears.

So, as someone who finds themselves in a position of authority in a company full of comedians, how do I get people to tell me truth – as that is something that I foolishly desire? How do I convince them that I really want to know what they feel is working and what is not, and that if they disagree with me I’m not going to tar and/or feather them, or throw them to the rabid dogs, or publicly mock them in a well-attended Comedy Central Roast that isn’t actually on Comedy Central but just happens in my studio apartment?

Jeff Ross will still make an appearance.

Jeff Ross will still make an appearance.

I’ve been just straight up asking people pointed questions, but it was posed to me that it’s possible that even though I’m doing that, someone may not feel like they can actually give me an honest real answer, and that I’m just looking to hear what I want to hear. Which, to me, seems ridiculous. But I guess people are ridiculous anyway.

So I made an anonymous survey for people to fill out, prompting them to be as honest as possible with no consequences. We’ll see how that goes. It’s interesting that going from being on an even playing field with everyone, to being in a position to make this call or that call, starts to change how other people see you. I feel the same as I always have. I have really strong opinions about what kind of art I want to make, and how I want to make it. But I want other people to have their strong opinions too, and then we can work together to figure out how best to achieve our goals. I guess it’ll take some time for everyone to get used to how our ship is being sailed, but ultimately I want them to know that they’re sailing just as much as I am. Because sometimes I’m only scrubbing the poop deck.

SAVE YOURSEEEEELVES! *sploosh*

SAVE YOURSEEEEELVES! *sploosh*

I want to be the kind of leader that I would like to have lead me: passionate, deliberate, someone with a strong vision, but who will listen to the input of others. I don’t want to be the kind of leader with a high turnover rate. If your crew isn’t with you, sailing is going to be pretty hard. I’m not interested in having a mutiny on my hands – wow, it really sounds like I want to go sailing. Someone get me a boat and fill it with comedians.

Allison Page is the Co-Creative Director of Killing My Lobster. You can hear her talk about how she’s changing the way their shows are made at http://pianofight.com/bornready/born-ready-ep-5-being-a-derelict-w-allison-page/ You can also follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

The Five: Five Questions to ask about Bay Area Theatre Crowdsourcing.

Anthony R. Miller is back with part 2 of his crowdsourcing lists. This week, he asks questions.

This was only going to be one list, I was just going to make a list of crowdsourcing campaigns that I wanted to draw attention to. However, having just helped run my first Kickstarter campaign, and after looking at so many incredible campaigns, I began to see the enormity of all this. Crowdsourcing is only going to get bigger, and that could be a great thing or a terrible thing. It depends on where we go with it.  So here are five questions to ask about crowdsourcing before jumping in.

Why should I do a crowdsourcing campaign?

You should do it because you can, because you want to put something into the world. To put it in the most idealistic terms; crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indie Go-Go allow anybody with a computer and a smart phone to reach out to the world at large and say “This is my idea, please give me money.”  You no longer have to pitch your idea to a producer who will ask you to cut it to 4 characters and 90 minutes with no intermission. You don’t need to Kevin Smith-it and rack up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, you don’t need to be independently wealthy, and you no longer need to float your budget on ticket revenue alone. More and more people will self-produce, more artists have a shot at telling their story, and it will be told the way they want. Dreams are gonna come true! Hooray! Arts Funding for all, right? Well, sorta. Because everybody can attempt crowdsourcing to make their project happen, they do. And, despite most theatrical ventures asking for funding in the Bay being very good causes, not everyone makes goal. So in addition to doing it because you can, do it because you need to. Which brings us to:

Why shouldn’t I?

You shouldn’t if you don’t need to. To take an example from the Indie-film world, a few years back, Filmmaker Kevin Smith considered crowd sourcing his film, Tusk. He eventually went the traditional route of finding a producer to finance the film for the simple fact that he could. He felt that people that can find funding in ways other than crowdsourcing, should do it and leave that money for the people who need it. I’m not going to give criteria on who does or doesn’t qualify; but if you have the resources to produce without crowdsourcing, you probably aught to. When talking with folks who have run campaigns to fund a show, they all find the experience exhausting and scary. Crowdsourcing shouldn’t be seen as an easier route, but simply A route; grants, angel donors, or producers who want to support your vision are certainly less abundant (A strong reason why crowdsourcing is necessary) but they’re still there.

What’s the difference between Indie Go-Go and Kickstarter?

Oh there’s a few, but the one I’ll talk about is that of Fixed Funding vs Flexible Funding.

Kickstarter is solely fixed funding, so if you don’t make your goal, you get nothing. Indie Go-Go is the increasingly Arts-friendly of the two, this is in part due to its flexible funding model, an option in which you can still get some of them money you raised even if you don’t make goal (IGG takes a bigger cut in this case.). This is pretty awesome for self-producers; making 2000 is still pretty darn helpful even if you didn’t raise 4000. Now, there is larger debate about the “message” or “Urgency” that comes from Kickstarters’ Fixed Funding. It can be argued that by going the “All or Nothing” route it says that you’re not messin’ around, or it makes making goal all the more urgent. This is based on the notion a person is less inclined to give if they know they get money no matter what. Obviously, there are good reasons for both, in the end it’s your call. One sweet thing about flexible funding is that you get charged to your card right then, not on the day the campaign ends, so you don’t have to make sure you keep $25 dollars on your bank card for 20 days.

Are we all non-profits now?

If you’ve ever received a phone call from your local non-profit theatre asking for a donation, you’ve heard the phrase; “Ticket sales only cover 50 percent of our operating costs”. Even the big kids on the playground like Berkeley Rep and ACT rely on a strong donor base to cover operating and artistic costs. So if crowdsourcing is allowing independent producers to do the same thing, are we all essentially operating as non-profits? In a reductive way yes, we’re all doing it for the same reason, to put on a high quality show without charging everyone 100 dollars a ticket. But what we don’t have that the big kids do are Development Departments, brilliant people who have incredible ideas on how to raise money, and the resources to carry them out. Kickstarter and Indie Go-Go give us the ability to be our own development departments, we provide perks for donors, have a database of donor information, and it allows us to keep in contact with all of them. Now there are other things (besides being a registered 501c) that make you a non-profit, like a mission statement outlining a desire to play a strong role in the community as well as a plan for exactly how you plan to do so. And yes, documentation proving you actually did give back in a quantifiable way. So if we are going to operate and fund our projects like a non-profit theater, then we have to decide if we’re going to do work that serves our community in some way or give back in ways above and beyond just putting on a great show. (Spoiler Alert: The ones that do, often make goal, I’ve given to several campaigns not because I was dying to see the show, but just because I felt like this show needed to exist.) But should we all be non-profits? Maybe, or maybe not. Non-profit regional theatres had to switch their models for fundraising in the mid-sixties when the Ford Foundation ceased its proverbial showering of money on them. They then became far more dependent on individual donors, and it worked great when rich people cared about theatre. The model that worked for 50 years isn’t working as well anymore for a barrage of reasons. So, being an actual non-profit isn’t exactly a sweet deal either. The pain in the ass about those darn development departments is that you in fact have to raise more money, not for production costs, but to pay for your development department. There is something to be said for making a profit, or at least attempting to.

Is it sustainable?

It can be. One thing that stood out to me in all my research was that for every SF Theatre campaign I saw, I knew somebody running it, or I had seen a show in the space. The Bay is a Small community, if you add up all the campaigns that have happened, are happening, and will be happening soon you have about 400K in money being asked for in SF theatre alone. Now that’s not much if you’re Reading Rainbow or Pebble Watch, but if you’re putting on your show in a local 60-seat black box, costume shopping in your own closets, and having lofty goals of paying people something- as Jesse Pinkman would say; “That’s mad cheddar Mr. White”. So it looks like everybody is asking for the same money. That’s half true; there is definitely a community of people that are always going to give $25, $50 because they want to help their theatre scene. As more campaigns spring up, folks won’t be able to fund everybody they want, or as much as they want. That however, is not the whole story. Each campaign is different; they are done by different people, for different plays, theaters, festivals, and dream projects. We all have a circle of friends and family that get turned to for help. This option however, has its limits, your friends and family may start to raise an eye brow when you’re on your third dream project in a year. Also, each project has its own base of people, fans who will be exclusively interested in that project theme (this base wants to feel involved, so make sure to give them cool perks to keep them feeling wholly invested). The point is that it’s not one source of money, it’s several, or at least it better be. Crowdsourcing allows us to cull every resource into one place. What will make this viable is not depending on one source. Before going into a project, look at your existing resources and build around those. What will also help keep this movement going, is giving back; promote other campaigns and donate to them. Finally, what will make this sustainable is working towards needing it less, don’t ask for your whole budget, be smart with your money, and don’t settle for breaking even, make money so you can do another show without a Kickstarter campaign. (Or at least wait a year or two.) Small companies and independent producers in the Bay are seeing a world of opportunities in crowdsourcing, and that’s a good thing. But with great fundraising power, comes great responsibility. The idealist in me is very excited; the pessimist has a lot of questions.

Anthony R. Miller is local playwright, director, producer and that guy who won’t stop calling about renewing you theatre subscription. His show; TERROR-RAMA opens this October at the Exit.