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.

The Five: Five Crowdsourcing Campaigns You Should Check Out

Local Playwright, Director, and Ticket-Shiller Anthony R. Miller returns with a 2 Parter on the rise of Crowdsourcing in Bay Area Theatre.

It’s been quite the two weeks since my last post; the closing of my hometown theatre company, San Jose Rep, a double whammy of bullshit from the Tony Awards (Seriously, instead of hearing the speech from the winner of “Best Book from a Musical” I get a special performance by Sting?”), there’s really no shortage of lists. But another event this last week was a personal one for me, the show I am producing and co-writing; TERROR-RAMA, made its Kickstarter goal. Thanks to the support of friends, family, and the Bay Area Theatre Community, we have enough money to pay everyone who works on the show, not have to charge a ridiculous amount of money to break even, and perhaps even a smidge of production value. One thing that struck me was just how many campaigns went on at the same time as us; The Lost Church, Diva-Fest, friggin Reading Rainbow. So I did a little research, and if you add up every theatre campaign in SF alone for 2014 (finished, current, and projected), almost $450,000 has been, is, and will be asked for via crowdsourcing. Sure, there are people living in the city right now that could fund all of those projects at once and still manage to have a sweet vacation, but it’s a big sum none the less, and it’s only destined to rise. Even now, you can easily find 10 different arts campaign just for the Bay Area. This inspired not one, but two lists. This week, I present: Five Bay Area Arts Crowdsourcing Campaigns You Should Check Out and in two weeks; Five Questions About The Future of Arts Crowd Sourcing. One thing crowd sourcing has allowed is that any once can at least try now. Sure, they might not make it, but they have the opportunity to even ask. This means there’s a whole crap-load of incredible companies looking for help; here are a few current campaigns you should check out.

Do It Lives’ 2014 Season

Ambition, ambition, and a big dose of moxie are the words I use to describe this young SF theatre company. They’re raising money to fund their, that’s right, ambitious season of 7 plays from writers all over the world. On top of that they’re doing them in repertory, a rotating line up of plays for 8 months. This group is dedicated to doing active, visceral, and challenging theatre. I hear they also plan to build a theatre in space, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. This group is worth looking at, they’re different, focus like a laser on a younger audience, and give the artists they work with a lot of freedom.

Great Star Theater

Nestled in Chinatown is the Great Star Theater, I have seen some crazy shows here. It’s a classic 1920’s theater that hosts a variety of exciting theatre. They are currently raising money to restore it to its former glory. 90 years of dust, old ass ropes that people dangle from and a million burnt out light bulbs are just a few of the things they’re trying to tackle. This place is worth checking out. Last I checked, we need all the venues we can get, and this one is rad.

2014 FURY Factory Festival of Ensemble Theatre

From July 6-20, The FURY Factory festival will bring 24 ground-breaking theatre companies from around the country to The Mission District. This festival has an incredible line-up and promises to be 2 weeks of really exciting theatre. They are raising money to pay all the artists and personnel of the festival. This is worth checking out, because bringing some of the most innovative companies in America to SF is one thing, but paying them too is a darn fine cause.


Birthed from the loins of the SF Olympians Fest (They have a campaign coming up too.) writer Marissa Skudlarek is DOIN’ IT and self-producing her play about 7 sisters coming of age in the early 70’s at the height of second-wave feminism. And to top it off, its very production addresses a situation in Bay Area Theatre, a lack of women writers, directors and roles. Pleiades features a female writer, director, lead-producer and 8 female roles. Check this out if you’re ready to see more talented women doing theatre.

Mugwumpin 10

With just a day and half left, this company gets and A for urgency. These bad-asses of Theatre are raising money specifically to pay the performers and directors of their two revivals; This is All I Need and Super:Anti:Reluctant, both plays are audience favorites that creatively question American ideals. You should check them out because they’re very close to goal (and their deadline) and these guys have been doing incredible work for ten years and changing the relationship between audience and performer.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer, and that guy who won’t stop calling currently living in Berkeley, Ca. His show: TERROR-RAMA opens in October 2014.