Crowdfunding is a relatively new tool which is geared toward the social media and marketing minded. However, campaigns need constant development of fresh content in order to stay at the top of people's feeds and on their minds. First Responder theater companies with limited staff, who often work multiple jobs, often find success inconsistent with these types of fundraising programs. The most straight-forward, traditional focus for revenue has been ticket sales. Considering the wide sprawl of Los Angeles, and the wealth of things to do in a city this large, there has always been a lot of competition when it comes to attracting and retaining audience members.
The long-established model of relying on ticket sales for revenue can be daunting. Even when houses are full or close to capacity, if the company has a brick and mortar building, there are a whole host of other expenses to take into consideration. Traveling or "floating" companies have to deal with similar challenges – rental space, contractually obligated percentages, paying the cast and crew, and scrounging to find a way to pay oneself. When focusing on revenue generated from ticket sales, it's difficult not to focus on all of the lack involved, which can make it a struggle to feel that a show's been "successful."
During the First Responer Tales #1 symposium, Leilani Chan, Artistic Director of TeAda Productions, shared that TeAda was looking for ways to "release [themselves] from the need of ticket sales." She mentions that it is "revolutionary to even consider that [they] actually have a year…where [they're] not selling any tickets," except for when they go on tour.
And herein was a mind-blowing concept to me. As someone who has performed and produced theater in small venues as part of a troupe, there was just an understanding that the bulk of the budget would have to be made back from ticket sales. As someone who has a solely experiential understanding of theater, as opposed to an academic or business understanding of theater, I had no concept -no idea - that there could be innovations on this model that companies have been operating on for years and years. And yet, hearing it put so succinctly and matter-of-factly made so much sense: it is adaptation, evolution, and, as Chan states, revolution. The ticket sale model, by its nature, gives away the potential success of the show to the ticket purchasing audience. In essence, it's giving away the power to determine a production's worth to a dollar value, which isn't entirely accurate.
Over its 20-year existence, TeAda Productions has employed a number of different company models - from traditional productions, ensemble-based work, workshops and showcases – and has always strove to find ways to improve, transmuting techniques that didn't work and building on those that did. The nature of their work has changed as well, as they are now more focused on working with specific communities over the course of a several years. Because they've been enmeshed in these communities and have been working directly with the community members these projects are focused on - the Laotian community, which inspired their piece Refugee Nation, their work-in-progress, Global Taxi Driver, which explores one of the first jobs available to immigrants in the U.S., and Delicious Reality, which shows life from the perspective of restaurant workers in Los Angeles, TeAda has been able to secure grants that fund their work based on these collaborative, ongoing relationships. It has allowed TeAda shift the focus from how to generate ticket sales, to focusing on the work of developing and attracting new audiences – "immigrant communities and people of color who have typically not been represented on stage."
This is just one example of many possibilities and opportunities to respond to the dwindling funds available to create, produce and present this kind of work. It's just one of many innovative ways artists are choosing to face mounting challenges head on, and flourish.