by Ramona Pilar Gonzales
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RAMONA GONZALES: A few things that you said at the symposium struck me. For example, you mentioned the idea of “release” in a couple of different ways:
• Release from the need for ticket sales
• Release from the need for audience
Can you expand a bit further on these ideas?
LEILANI CHAN: I'm not sure the context of "release from the need for audience." I am sure about releasing the need for "release from ticket sales." Maybe when I said audience I meant butts in seats in a traditional theater space. A lot of what we struggle with in L.A. is getting people to come to theater venues. Here are three basic challenges we face:
1) As a small nomadic theater company we can only afford rental in small theaters that may be hard to find, and since we aren't there on a regular basis and the venue may change, it is always a challenge to encourage people to drive to a new place especially across town.
2) We want to attract new audiences, immigrant communities, and people of color who have typically not been represented on stage. It is a challenge to convince them that yes indeed the theater can be about them and can be about their experiences. Training a new community to go the theater is a challenge especially with limited resources.
3) L.A. press coverage for theater in general is so limited. When the Los Angeles Times covers theater they more often talk about New York or a show from New York. As a small theater, it is hard to cut through the noise to get the word out and grow an audience. Especially in L.A. where there is so much competition for activities and entertainment options.
Why not let this go? Why are we fighting upstream? If our goal is to have non-theater going people see a play, then why continue to force them into an environment that is not familiar and not welcoming? How can we take theater to the community, where they live, congregate, where they feel at home? "Ticket sales" is such a corporate model. When mainstream theaters talk about "audience development" they mean how do we "sell" a ticket to a person of color. But they don't look at programming and artist development as a direct resource for developing new audiences. Our communities know when we are being tokenized with that "one slot" for the "ethnic" play each season.
RG: When it comes to the release from the need for ticket sales, what are some other ways that you've found to fund your projects? Grants are super competitive and, from what I've heard from some of the other "small" theater companies, they don't always have the staff and time to a) pursue grants and b) follow up with all the required paperwork.
• How does TeAda get around those obstacles?
• Have you used crowdfunding to address some of the financial needs?
• How have the classes/workshops TeAda offers contributed to your objective to become less dependent on ticket sales for revenue?
LC: This is our big experimental year. Our Delicious Reality: Pop Up TeAda is currently funded by the Irvine Foundation. We are working with restaurant workers to create small plays and videos that can be done on the street, in a restaurant, at an outdoor parade, or an event. We are currently concluding the workshop phase and the pieces will start to be created in the coming months. This is flash theater, a piece that requires minimal rehearsal [so that a] maximum of restaurant workers can participate in the actual performance.
We are currently grappling with [the question of] “how, then, do we pay the bills?” First off, we always kept ticket prices low and made the habit of not counting on ticket sales to break even, so cash-wise it really isn't much of a loss. However, we are currently coming up with ways to fundraise and trying to turn this idea into a plus.
Some ideas are "Take TeAda to the Streets" or "Bring TeAda to the Community." We are brainstorming ways to have a fundraising plan to articulate the risk we are taking as a theater company, Crowd-sourcing online campaigns being one. Our touring production Refugee Nation goes on tour again in April. We are currently planning a community event in partnership with the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach so we can have an audience at an open rehearsal at their studio in Long Beach before we leave town. We are looking for sponsors for this event so we can invite the Cambodian and Southeast Asian community of Long Beach to see the show for free before it leaves town. It is our first time doing this so it's a big experiment but we are already getting excitement from the community.