I have lots of opinions about theatre, especially the theatre I want to make. Generally, they’re passionate and have been refined over the years that I’ve been making theatre and attending shows, viewing them from a community member’s perspective. I will happily talk ears off when sharing these opinions, particularly after a couple of glasses of wine. I try to keep my more critical stances to myself, both because of the tight-knit interdependent theatre ecosystem of which I’m a part and because I know my own tastes and products are not for all markets.
But there is one topic I will sprint out of rooms to avoid. Fundraising for independent theatre – even when it’s for Monkeyman Productions, the theatre company I helped to found in 2008. I also very seldom read articles that bring up fundraising – you clearly have a stronger stomach than I do if you’re choosing to continue reading. For that, I’m grateful.
The reality is that making theatre requires money. And no one starts working in theatre to get rich. Or, if they do see it as a path to fame and fortune, they don’t hang around. And because we aren’t putting our geeky energies into scheming any major bank heists, for now, there are 3 obvious options Monkeyman Productions has explored as a company.
Option 1 – Art Council Grants
These are tough to get – almost impossible if payroll isn’t a big piece of your usual budgets. People get grants, sure, and Monkeyman Productions will keep applying for them, but personally I feel like they come with a strange sort of judgment built in. I have nightmares of follow-ups on successful grant applications that resemble the infamous Margie Gillis video. I believe in what we do as a theatre company and I know that the like-minded people that sit in our audiences agree. Everyone has a theory about who gets grant applications and who doesn’t. And the timelines are pretty enervating for the actual business of planning and producing a show. For this fall’s production of The Beast from Planet X, our application wasn’t successful, so that option was off the table.
Option 2 – Crowdfunding Websites
We successfully used this strategy for our 5th anniversary production in 2013. We’re very grateful to everyone that donated, but that was a special occasion and we don’t see ourselves as the kind of company that’s going to use that angle for our reliable schedule of two productions per year. There’s a point when repeatedly asking for support that way crosses the line into being a nuisance. We’d rather people get excited about an upcoming opening night than count down to a campaign end date. And it was tricky working towards 2013’s production with the looming responsibility to provide extras and perks hanging in the air. It’s fun making bonus content, but I’d prefer it be an occasional surprise, not an additional expectation the audience has of us.
Option 3 – Events like Monkey Night in Canada
A fundraising workhorse (workmonkey?) for the company, these are awesome annual fêtes, in my admittedly biased opinion. We meet our kind of people, we drink, we play games, and we get a great excuse to socialize with the cast before opening night. We’ve had silent auctions, 50/50 draws, and friends of the company have provided entertainment. To be honest, though, the returns on this style of event as a one-off fundraiser have been diminishing. It’s not a model we’re going to abandon completely, but I’m inclined to stop depending on it as much as we have.
With those 3 options down, I want to propose something different. Maybe even revolutionary, despite it being the most obvious thing in the world. If you believe in Monkeyman Productions, if you believe in the theatre we make, if you want to play a very real and active part in producing our show this fall, it’s easy. In the tweaked words of Rod Tidwell, I want you to say…
“Show me The Monkey.”
Today, we’re opening our box office and we’re going to be selling tickets to our fall production at a discount. Instead of our ticket sales indicating the success of our production after the fact, we’re asking people that want to see the show to demonstrate their support now. And we’re going to invest that support into our production. The more support we have, the better our production values, the better we can show our appreciation to the people working on the show, and the better our health as a not-for-profit theatre company will be, going forward.
Our performance dates are set. Our venue contract is signed and its rental fee paid. The Beast from Planet X will be on stage November 27th through 29th and December 2nd through 5th at the Palmerston Library Theatre. You’ll be able to buy a ticket now, but you don’t have to choose which day you want to attend until later. People buy advance tickets for concerts and entire seasons of big theatre companies all the time. Why not an independent theatre production?
No gimmicks, no bells, no whistles, no tiers, no stretch goals.
1. Buy a discounted ticket to the show between now and October 27th, one month before opening night. We’ve set up PayPal, we’ll happily set up offline options, we’ll probably have a Monkey Night in Canada to wrap up our #ShowMeTheMonkey campaign.
2. We’ll give you a reasonably long window of opportunity to select the performance you want to attend. If everyone’s screaming “Show me The Monkey!” and you only have one night you can see the show and we are blessed by Dionysus to sell out that night, we will give you a full refund. If you’re unable to attend on any of the performance dates, listed above, we’ll appreciatively accept a donation, but that won’t be grounds for a refund if you buy a ticket – just makes sense, right?
Now, I realize I’ve just spent hundreds of words talking about fundraising for independent theatre, a topic I abhor. Why?
I’ve been a theatre creator with a day job for almost fifteen years. Some days are easier than others. I know, for a fact, there is no experience for collaborators or audiences quite like an authentic Monkeyman Productions experience. I spent much of 2014 away from making theatre, not sure when or if I’d return to it. Then, I read an early draft of D.J. Sylvis’s script for The Beast From Planet X and I got excited about producing and directing again. And if you secure yourself a spot in our audience, I think you’re really going to be moved by these characters and this story. There’ll be pop culture references, there’ll be opportunities to bask in the wonders of imagination, and there’ll be a heaping helping of heart. I can guarantee that. Buying an early-bird (early-monkey?) ticket means we will feel your presence not just in the theatre on that one night but in the audition room, in production meetings, in the rehearsal hall, and every moment in between. Our audience has never been more important to us. Save your seats months before the house opens. Say it with me now:
“Show me The Monkey.”
“Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I’ve failed as much as I’ve succeeded. But I love my wife, I love my life, and I wish you my kind of success.”
– The late, great, Dicky Fox
You can also find this post at MChodorek.com.