Outside the (Poor) Box
Reflections on money in a penniless world
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
If you're on Facebook or Twitter you have been seeing two trends: projects - especially theatre projects - crowd-sourcing funding for shows; a backlash against professionals - actors, journalists, musicians - working for nothing except the joy of working, experience and exposure.
These two trends interest me profoundly. As we, at CharPo, have said - out loud and constantly - we pay nothing to our writers (nor do editors, nor publishers, receive any payment). Crowd-sourcing money has been considered so that we can at least offer honorariums.
However, what is happening out there is sometimes exciting to us, and sometimes discouraging. Whereas, as little as a year ago, crowd-sourcing funds was a fascinating idea, we now see a lot of projects who go the Indiegogo route (to name one fund-raising organization) failing to raise even close to what they were aiming at. Some of these companies are solid, even magnificent, organizations. They cannot - for a variety of reasons - get government funding or when they do it's a pittance. Right now, without much research, I know at least four theatre organizations crowd-sourcing money and having a bitch of a time of it.
Maron has sponsors: an online sex shop; an independent coffee vendor; stamps.com among them.
Some have suggested we go this route to fund CharPo - but the idea makes me itchy because there are limited funds for theatre already and, as a theatre commentator, I feel it would be wrong to sap those funds simply to support artists who are struggling - especially young practitioners of this art.
(Yes, I am aware that most of the people who write for this site are struggling as well - but Estelle Rosen, our Editor-in-Chief, and I have one rule: we don't get a cent until everyone does.)
Let's pretend crowd-sourcing - in general terms - is a dead end? What now?
It is time to think outside the box. Theatres - and web sites - have to go beyond the vision of the writers and artists in the organization. We all need those people who have - recently - picked up an MBA and examined the internet and have read the articles about the new serf-class which has been created by technology (musicians who make nothing at iTunes; writers who make not a cent from Amazon/Apple - despite the iPad and Kindle; companies who make nothing at Indiegogo).
I'd like you all to cheer up a little. Here's an example you want to know about: Marc Maron.
Maron, a terrific comic, is not to everyone's taste. He's angry, brutal and depressive. (Some would say depressing.) Maron is no Louis CK. Maron knows this and you can hear that when you listen to his comedy recordings - to minuscule crowds of aficionados. Then Maron found pod-casting and, folks, I think his podcast - WTF is its name - is brilliant. Simply: he interviews comics, actors, entertainers and gets so far into their heads it's scary. They admit stuff, they cry, they laugh their asses off.
Maron has sponsors: an online sex shop; an independent coffee vendor; stamps.com among them. He solicits funds on his website. He sells merchandise - lots of different things. And Maron admits this is the best thing to have happened in his life and that he is in danger of being happy. Maron took an already existing idea and ran with it. He moved outside the box and in 50 directions.
How many times have I been to a show where there is no program (let alone one with advertising in it)? How many times have I thought, about a show, "Goddam their promo art is brilliant, I'd love that on a t-shirt! I'd buy the poster!"
At CharPo we are rummaging through the thousands of lessons about money - negative and positive - on the internet and beyond. We still think that for us - and for artists - a new frontier is opening.
It is all a question of getting our covered wagons to a pasture and building a house.