I saw that you raised $100,000 doing a Kickstarter for your play, Good Bread Alley? How do you go about raising money to produce a play?
No sleep and lots of hustling...lol. The first thing is audience development. You've got to get folks excited about your work long before you start asking folks for money. First off, look at building a webpage and a FB page. Create content about your project. Visuals are best. For example, my play is about Afro Cuban and Gullah dance, so my webpage, FB, Instagram, Twitter and Tumbler pages are full of images, music and "Did you know" quick facts about the cultures in my story. People love images. Your goal is to create a mailing list. So on all your platforms, you want to make the offer of sending updates and related articles about your project in a monthly newsletter to begin with. Your ultimate goal is to get an active mailing list. Meaning, you ask folks what they want to know about your story and send them yummy visual treats. If there are places where they can get free stuff related to your story, get them the free stuff links. Or share excerpts from the film, play, webseries. As you get closer to the project, you'll send more regular updates like bi-weekly or weekly.
Once you have your fan base, time to start putting together a tighter strategy for a crowdsourcing campaign. You need a short exciting heartfelt video about why the project is important to you, to others, what sets it apart and what about it moves you. You'll need one strong visual logo and you need a campaign slogan that's catchy and memorable. For example, my play was called Good Bread Alley, so the campaign slogan was "Give us some Bread, So we can make some Good Bread Alley. Short, sweet and catchy...that and a sexy photo of the cast in costume became the t-shirt, postcard, kickstarter image that we pasted everywhere.
Your social media platforms are important to keep up to date with weekly and then daily posts once the campaign has started. Make sure every time you post, you're giving your audience new information and one action item (i.e. sign up for the newsletter, follow us on twitter, Like our FB page, donate now).
Then, the single most important angle is personalized letters. It takes a conversation before folks raise money. Meaning, three personalized letters to each and every person in your mailing list. Form letters turn people off, but if a letter begins with asking about their kid or commenting on a lovely FB post of theirs, then they know you're talking to them. A campaign should be no more than a month, so essentially you'll be sending them a personal letter once a week. The personal part of the letter needs to be no more than 2-3 sentences and then talk about your project. You can create the letters weeks before the campaign, then create email blasts to automatically go out. Folks usually give by the 2nd letter. The letter writing is more important than social media posting. I raised $100K with 500 supporters. Just by writing letters. 85% of all donations came from direct letters and not social media. It works, guaranteed.
Summary: Create a following long before you start asking for money, turn that into an email list and then write 3 personal letters to every contact in your email base. Done. Signed. Sealed and Delivered. And the good news is that those folks who give to your campaign are now your supporters who will put butts in seats opening weekend of your play or film which is when it really counts. Box office is all that matters and once you've run a successful kickstarter, you now have a base of loyal fans who feel invested in the success of your project, so they will buy tix.
Do it! and Do it well!
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""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson