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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Playwright's Note: Kickstart Me, Baby

There are few things that I find less interesting than an artist talking about his or her own work. My feeling is that everything you need to know about a painter's relationship with her painting, a composer's relationship with his symphony, or a novelist's relationship with her novel is in the painting, the symphony, or the novel, respectively. You want to hear what the artist has to say? Look at the work. She's said it already.
(Don't even get me started on cast-driven DVD commentaries.)
So when I was invited recently to contribute some Playwright's Notes for a show that was being produced, I resisted the request to talk about the work and instead opted to write about the way in which the production was funded, which was through a Web site called Kickstarter, which matches projects to donors.  
Enough people contributed who were unable to actually attend the show and, thus, never received my attempt at a public thank you, so I thought I would re-run the note here.

By the way, Amanda Hamm gets the shoutout, only because she's the oldest of my friends to kick in, but that lead paragraph could also have been about Lisa Osio, Christine Stanley, Stephanie Brady, or any number of other supporters, each of whom would have brought with them their own histories.

Of course, the more interesting stories might be about the scores of other names that I don't even recognize.

The number of donors eventually swelled from the 87 referenced below to a final tally of 108, though the math still pretty much remains the same, not that I'm any good at math.
In any case, the note:
“The future belongs to crowds.” – Don DeLillo, Mao II
I kissed Amanda Hamm (then “Helms”) in the first grade. Broke ranks from the boys' line, crossed over to the girls', and planted one right on her cheek. This was in Richmond, Kentucky, where I lived through the fourth grade, before I moved to San Diego. I returned to Richmond once, the summer after my seventh-grade year, where I saw Amanda at a party. This was 1986. Ronald Reagan was president. Top Gun was in theaters. I haven’t seen Amanda since, yet she has funded part of tonight’s show.
Amanda and (as of this writing) 87 others fueled this production through a Web site called Kickstarter.  Kickstarter—which has been featured on NPR and in The New York Times Magazine, among other national media outlets—is one of a growing number of sites that matches (usually) artistic projects with potential donors. These sites strike me as being a crucial component of the future of the arts in this country. I’m not bitter enough to say that the American government doesn’t care for the arts, but I do recognize that they have to make choices, and, for example, no play or painting or symphony is as important as a textbook or a bottle of milk or a vaccination.
So, in the absence of government support, private donations fill that vacuum. Only the term “private donation” has been replaced by this terrific new phrase, “crowd funded.” “Crowd funded.” If “private donation” is roughly akin to “money to burn,” then “crowd funded” is more like “I can’t really afford this, but I like/believe in you so here you go.” We found 88 people who like/believe in us. One generous donation skews the numbers (thanks, ma-in-law!), but remove it from the equation, and the average donation was approximately $70, which is one of the cheap seats in a Broadway house nowadays. 
Think about that. Rather than paying $70 to see theater, these donors have paid $70 to make theater. Many of the contributors—like Amanda—won't even be able to see that which they have supported.
Nonetheless, we intend to give them their money's worth. It's the best thank you we can offer.