Let’s say you’re an actor, working on great, stimulating, heart-swelling and mind-expanding projects. Labors of love. By day, you do work that pays the bills; by night, you live your passion.
But let’s be clear about paying those bills: You’ve been using the same towels for 20 years, and you only buy new sheets when the old ones shred. Your car (or scooter) needs a new clutch. You just got health insurance for the first time (thanks, President Obama!) and you’re finally getting that thing looked at.
If you have kids, they’re used to it: second-hand clothes, nearby car vacations, the library. But what about college? Or airplane travel? Or competitive water ballet? Or braces?
The passion, the love, the camaraderie: all of these are worth the price. You’ve got pride in your creations. You’ve got friends who give you comp tickets so you can see them be passionate too. When you have comps to your shows, you give them to friends who, like yourself, are always able to come up with the price of cigarettes, booze, and fast food during rehearsals.
The people who are just like you, though, aren’t the best audience for your work. The best audience depends on who you think you can reach out and touch, deeply, in new ways they never knew they needed. The audience for your work can continue to exist without your work, but once they see it, their lives are forever different. You can expand and blow minds and create long-term, passionate relationships with your audience — if you can afford to keep making theater.
It’s not that I don’t like theater people, and it’s not at all that I don’t like people without much money. The characterization above with the towels, sheets, and clutch? That’s me, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But last night, I went to see a live band perform to a practically sell-out audience in a 2,800-seat venue, and if everybody there paid for their ticket, it cost them over $30. This means, ideally, there are 2,800 people who have the money to spend to see a band they love. These, presumably, are not primarily theater people — or if they are, they managed to prioritize spending this much money because they knew they’d love it. (Or, like the guy behind us who had never heard the music, it seemed like a good place to have a spat with his girlfriend and stomp off.)
If I could get one-tenth of that number of people to see something I created, I’d be fairly stoked. If I could charge $30 a head, I could pay my artists enough that they could buy something more than parking and gas while they perform voluntarily. I want to raise the tide for all of us boats, and we need to go outside the pool of people who are taking the unpaid jobs if we want to turn the tide.
My next passion project will need funding, and I’m looking for ways to get non-theater people to sponsor something that means has meaning for them. The first step for me is to find the right audience and figure out how to connect with them.
Passion + audience = sustainability.