ICYMI: Theater can be financially viable and serve the greatest community needs

"This summer there’s been a steady stream of articles about American theaters in jeopardy, with headlines like 'Theater Is in Freefall' (Washington Post) and 'American Theater Is Imploding Before Our Eyes' (New York Times). Prestigious theaters around the country are pausing and terminating programs and laying off staff," said Ariel Fristoe for Saporta Report. "Meanwhile, my theater company is booming. Out of Hand Theater has landed on a model that has tripled our income in four years while moving our neighbors to action on important issues and elevating the role of theater in our community. It’s a win for art, a win for business, and a win for our community, and I want to share it in the hopes that other arts organizations can benefit from it in this time of crisis."

"Pairing theater with information and conversation leads to a culture shift towards social justice, increases visibility, and provides new income streams, making theater financially viable and increasing its community value while serving the greatest community needs." 

"Our Shows in Homes pair one-act plays with cocktail parties and conversations with community partners, and we typically perform in forty to fifty living rooms across Metro Atlanta each year. Shows in Homes have addressed gun violence with Moms Demand Action, mass incarceration with Georgia Justice Project, and political action with Partnership for Southern Equity. We just commissioned our next play, which will tackle Divisive Concepts legislation with the ACLU of Georgia."

"Our Community Collaborations include a film-based vaccine confidence program developed with the CDC Foundation and delivered across Georgia with the Department of Public Health; a child sex trafficking prevention program for Georgia middle school students developed with the Georgia Council for the Arts, Department of Education, Attorney General’s office, Wellspring Living and Street Grace; and a project addressing HIV stigma with the CDC and Positive Impact Health Centers. We have developed Juneteenth programs for The Home Depot Foundation, EY and UPS, and short plays and films for Habitat for Humanity International, Families First, and Leadership Atlanta."

"Arts leadership today requires a radical rethinking of the models our sector has relied on for the last 70 years. More than ever before, arts and entertainment are available anywhere, anytime, on any screen, for very little money. The last Survey of Public Participation in the Arts before the pandemic revealed that only 9 percent of U.S. adults attend non-musical theater, and these 9 percent are older, whiter, richer and hold more degrees than the population at large. In this environment, we must invent new reasons for people to venture out into the dark and the heat and the traffic to come to our programs. We must develop innovative programs that provide new revenue streams and make us less dependent on unpredictable individual ticket sales and contributed income."

"We have big issues to address, both within our sector and in the wider world, and we need to innovate. Don’t replicate the models of the past. They are not strong enough. Push the boundaries of art, and design new models that are more equitable, more sustainable, that galvanize excitement around live arts events, and capitalize on the presence of your attendees. Create work that helps find solutions to the most pressing problems of our time. Help make the world a better, more connected place through art."

Read the full piece here.