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Posts Tagged ‘Ubuntu’

at_oct18_Ubuntu-Theater-Project_Othello

Photo: Colin Mandlin
Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland, California, is using a pay-as-you-can model to expand their audience. Their production of
Othello, pictured above, was presented in a rug shop.

I have posted about finding unusual venues, like rug shops, for artistic performances (click here) and also about establishing pay-as-you-can models for a range of purposes (for example, the food business). Today’s post is about a California theater company that does both.

Ashley Lee reports at the American Theatre website, “Amid the dense arts scene of California’s Bay Area, Ubuntu Theater Project has proudly distinguished itself with a mission statement of being ‘radically inclusive.’

“Founded in 2012 as a handful of summer theatre festivals, Ubuntu — named after a Zulu proverb that means ‘I am because we are’ — now programs year-round shows at various venues throughout Oakland, Calif., one of America’s most diverse cities. They often stage American classics with predominantly casts of color, a majority of whom are Oakland natives. Though a seat at each performance costs between $15 and $45, the company has regularly drawn a percentage of patrons from low-income communities through pay-as-you-can tickets sold at the door, and has offset those costs with a bucket donation ask after the curtain call.

“But all that wasn’t inclusive — or radical — enough for Ubuntu. So last summer, the theatre adopted a pay-as-you-can subscription model, guaranteeing tickets to its seven shows for a single amount named by the ticketholder. …

“ ‘There was a financial risk — we had no idea what people were gonna pay,’ concedes Simone Finney, the organization’s marketing director. … ‘This is a way to invite someone into a continued conversation, rather than just an affordable experience of one show. It’s not just transactional; it’s saying, “I want to be part of this community.” ‘ …

“It was a huge gamble — and it’s paid off surprisingly well, both in terms of cash flow and feedback. Ubuntu’s subscriber base grew from just 25 devoted patrons to around 300 and counting. … Finney attributes the generosity of their higher-end subscribers to word of mouth, since her marketing budget didn’t suddenly multiply over the past season. ‘We’re trying to do a lot on not a lot,’ she admits.

“Leigh Rondon-Davis, Ubuntu’s executive associate, [says] ‘A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten is, “Thank you, I can finally afford to see theatre.” ‘ …

“As with any first-time initiative, the program had its share of hitches. … Their online ticketing platform, Vendini, doesn’t allow buyers to input their own prices; the current two-step work-around involves making a donation via the Square Cash app, waiting for a manually sent email from Rondon-Davis, and then booking tickets with a coupon code. …

“If their expanded subscriber base returns for next season, the organization hopes to offer shows that reflect their audience even more.

“ ‘Our bread and butter for a while was classics or established works, and humanitarian world premieres of new works,’ says Rondon-Davis. ‘Now, edgier works.’ …

“Adds Finney: ‘People don’t just come to things because they’re free. … You still want to earn people’s time, interest, and enthusiasm.’ …

“While other theatre companies might be hesitant to make this drastic leap, no one needs to jump into the deep end immediately. Instead Finney and Rondon-Davis suggest following in Ubuntu’s footsteps and experimenting with PAYC tickets at the door for each performance. Most important, they suggest, talk to your audiences to identify what their primary challenges are when it comes to seeing theatre. …

“ ‘It’s not always cost — it can be location, the type of work, not having people to go with, not feeling welcome in a theatre space,’ notes Finney. “These are conversations we will continue to have. … This hasn’t made us take a financial hit and has been, in fact, very beneficial to us. I hope that makes more companies consider accessible pricing, not just as a sacrifice you make, but something that could be a viable part in the life of a company.’ ” More.

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