Free admission is just the ticket
Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune
Mixed Blood Theatre and others have boosted audience diversity and access by offering free and reduced-price admission.
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 percent over the previous season, and ticket revenue was $170,000 less than in 2010-11, Reuler said. 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."
While Mixed Blood may be the first theater in the Twin Cities to eliminate admission fees, it is part of a wave of theaters rethinking the classic ticketing model. Reuler said Mixed Blood looked for guidance from New York's Public Theater, which has been giving away tickets to Shakespeare in the Park for 50 years.
Here, several theater companies do one-off "pay-what-you-can" nights, and since 2010, the Minnesota Theater Alliance has participated in the national "Free Night of Theater," which brought 5,000 patrons to local stages for the first time.
Leah Cooper, executive director of the alliance, said that audience diversification initiatives like these are on the rise in the Twin Cities. "There's a much more progressive mind-set around arts and culture for everybody," said Cooper. "It's that egalitarian idea that everybody should get to participate equally here."
To read the full article: http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/159953525.html