How would your art change if money was no object? Would you...


...stop charging audiences to attend your productions?

Sharyn Jackson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 6/23/12

Jack Reuler doesn't mind that his organization is losing money. In fact, said Reuler, it's a sign of success.  Mixed Blood Theatre just ended its first season of free admission to all of its productions, and Reuler, the troupe's founder and artistic director, said the organization achieved exactly what it had hoped: filling seats with everybody who wanted one. "We did not break even, nor did we intend to," said Reuler. In an effort to expand and diversify its audience, Mixed Blood last year announced a new cost-free admission program. Called Radical Hospitality, the initiative offers free tickets on a first-come-first-served basis two hours before each show. A limited number of tickets are available for purchase for $15 for those who want the guarantee of a seat. At a time when tickets are becoming an increasingly expensive commodity at theaters nationwide, the move was indeed radical. "We're trying to eliminate one of many barriers to participation, and thought we'd tackle the hardest one first," said Reuler. As a result, weekly attendance rose 18% over the previous season, and ticket revenue was $170,000 less than in 2010-11. That income gap was partially filled by a rise of about $100,000 in contributed income over the year before. But, Reuler explained, "No shows are ever paid for by their box office. We no longer review our shows by the dollars they generate by guaranteed admission." 47% of the 2011-12 audience was under the age of 30; 30% were people of color; 33% earned less than $25,000. On any given night at Mixed Blood, he said, roughly half the audience had opted for the free-seat plan. Most important for the future of the theater, 36% had never been to Mixed Blood. That statistic is already translating into growth: The number of new donors culled from the audience tripled compared with last year at this time. The only kinks being worked out for next year, said Reuler, are confusing lobby traffic before showtime and the occasional selling-out of advanced tickets.


...produce shows with bigger casts and pay those artists a higher wage?

Steven Leigh Morris, L.A. Weekly, 5/17/12

How would L.A. stages change if the theater gods were able to wave their magic wands and transform the local scene into a utopia? We asked a number of artistic directors around town what would be their fantasy production to helm, had they unlimited resources and the cast of their dreams. Though just a sampling, the responses open a window on the range of artistic and ethical priorities held by the people running our theaters.

  • When contacted, Michael Ritchie was on a cruise through the Panama Canal with a boatload of potential funders for his heavyweight organization, Center Theatre Group. He wrote simply, "Funny Girl with Lauren Ambrose" -- a production that was set to premiere at CTG this year before funding fell through.
  • Meanwhile, in the tropics of Santa Monica, where City Garage has found temporary digs, artistic director Frederique Michel said, "A postmodern Dante's Inferno with Johnny Depp as the poet and Mireille Enos [a theater actress known from the TV series The Killing] as Beatrice. So get me the unlimited resources. I'm ready."
  • Geffen Playhouse artistic director Randall Arney [said] "I wouldn't so much change my choices or drop a lot of dough on fancy sets and clothes. Rather, I would hugely increase all artist and staff compensation to hasten a quest for a living wage, and I would slash all ticket prices to make their hard work accessible to everyone."
  • Because of its small audience capacity, Rogue Machine is under no contractual obligation to pay its actors union wages. With unlimited funding, artistic director John Flynn says, "We would have a facility with two theaters and a good rehearsal room. The theaters would be flexible, seat around 200 or so, and [pay actors union salaries].... We would put time, effort and those unlimited funds into developing not plays but playwrights, new voices for the American theater. We'd also continue to bring Los Angeles productions of important plays not seen here. Being an Equity house, we would not have to wait four years to get rights to plays. Wouldn't that be a boon?"
  • Classics are on the collective brain of Pasadena Playhouse's artistic director, Sheldon Epps, and his colleague in South Pasadena, James Reynolds, who co-runs the Fremont Centre Theatre with his partner, Lissa Reynolds. "Most people don't know it," Epps says, "but the Playhouse in its early years had a strong tradition of doing Shakespeare's plays. In fact, that mad dreamer [and original Playhouse producer] Gilmore Brown actually produced all of the plays in the canon, quite a feat in an American theater at that time -- and a challenge now, given the size of the company and the number of Equity contracts that are required in most of the plays." Reynolds says he'd love to direct Julius Caesar, starring Morgan Freeman. Lissa Reynolds, however, says she'd "bring back the play we did about Jackie Robinson, National Pastime by Bryan Harnetiaux.... I would use the money to tour it around the country so more people had the chance to see it."

 ...destroy expensive fashion items in the name of art?

Gina Marinelli, Refinery29 blog, 5/28/12

Some people may go great lengths to get their hands on a piece of luxury. However, photographer Tyler Shields takes a different extreme approach to high-end accessories. In his latest project, Shields and girlfriend Francesca Eastwood (yes, Clint's daughter), showed a red croc Birkin bag who's boss with a "$200 chainsaw and 4 dollars of gasoline". This is not the first time that the photographer has gone a little pyro on a coveted luxury item; he's also destroyed a pair of Louboutins with fire and a chainsaw -- his ammo of choice, we presume -- for another photo project. The pictures of the Hermès blaze are certainly provocative, but we're not sure if we'd be able to light the match ourselves. On one hand, we really applaud the artist's effort to show that sometimes bags and shoes are just things. And we see his larger point that even the most sought-after luxury goods are not holier than thou. However, considering the sky-high price tags attached here, destroying a Birkin bag is still extremely wasteful -- even if you're the kind of person who really does feel like money is no object. View the entire collection of photos from the fiery shoot, and tell us if this kind of destructive behavior is careless, particularly in this economic climate, or if this example of a chic casualty is just the kind of message we all occasionally need as a reminder of the real cost of materialism.


...change nothing?

Artist/curator Kate Karroch on her blog, 6/22/12

I asked Britt Salt what she would do if she had unlimited funds for her art practice: "The prospect of no financial or time constraints seems like a blissful proposal. Though I can't imagine if it would impact on my practice. I think I'd still be making the same work I am now, to be honest. Perhaps I'd be travelling a lot more than I am now. Lots of 'self-directed residencies'. Heading to Morocco, South of Spain, South America, Greenland in search of interesting spaces and architecture. It would be an amazing experience that could definitely influence my practice. "I don't think more time and money would result in me having a better, more fulfilled practice. Only in the sense that I think I develop ideas at quite a slow and bubbling rate, and when you need to make a work, you just have to make it, you find a way, become resourceful. Needless to say, I like a challenge, and I love the feeling of relaxed contentment when the stresses and deadlines of creating something dissipate once its finished!" Britt hits a point that is important to many art practices; creativity does not come from unlimited resources. Creativity comes from a ravenous need to make and resourcefulness (for example, Jackson Pollock's use of house paint). Britt summarizes this sentiment beautifully: "When I have money, I need to spend it, double it, use it. When I have no money, all that's left to do is work." 

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