Being a Fundraiser – Or Not

The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards

Sitting here drinking coffee in a lovely, quiet NYC morning, I am reading two articles in the Times about Broadway Productions, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/17/theater/rules-for-investing-in-a-broadway-production.html?emc=eta1

and http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/17/theater/on-broadway-today-a-name-above-the-title-isnt-that-hard.html?emc=eta1.

Here’s the main gist of those articles – In the world of Broadway productions, 75% lose their entire investment, 25% make a profit, and the main job of a producer is fundraising.

In my little 45-seat for-profit venue, I’ve been focusing on creating and developing good theatre (mine and others) and selling tickets. Clearly, if you are looking to make money, or not lose money, the fundraising is where you want to put your attention. And I have not done that.

And for the last year, I did not break even. Should I have been courting people with deep pockets? I recall a good friend of mine, who runs a major organization, saying to me this summer, “I can’t come to your workshop on Saturday. I have to go sailing.” And before I could say, “Gee, how sad I am for you” she said, “It’s work. He’s a donor.”

She wanted to come and write her book, and instead she had to court a donor.

Two days ago I was talking to a friend in the Southwest who has a theatre, and she talked about spending most of her time fundraising. This morning she texted me how happy she was, she just got a $1000 donation, without having to even work for it. And I thought to myself, “Apparently it is possible to get funding.”

But do I want to spend my time trying to get funding? No. Grant writing is arduous. I’m working on one right now, and though I like the thinking required to be clear about my project, I don’t like jumping through the hoops, filling out forms, and tailoring language, especially when I don’t know if it will yield anything. When I write a play, or perform, or direct a show, there is a tangible result, immediately. I may not be making money, but I am making something. Maybe that’s childish of me, but it’s also how I really feel.

As I contemplate the closing of my midtown Manhattan venue next summer, a move necessitated by soaring rents and dipping box office receipts, I have to consider what I could have done differently. Not in the form of regret, because I don’t regret any of these last nine years, but to think about what I want to do next.

First, of course, there is my year of travel and making an art project out of the idea of growing a community theatre.  But then there’s the idea of actually creating a new venue. Do I want to be a fundraiser? Can I find someone to fundraise for me? Or do I want to go back to the way it was before I had a venue – when I had to search for a good space and pay unreasonable rents, and have no control over the space – how it’s equipped, if it’s clean, if it’s pretty.

The other night I was talking about these things with a friend, and he said, “You don’t want to be a venue manager, you want to be an artistic director.” And I said, automatically, “Yeah.” But is that the truth? The sense of freedom I feel, even thinking about stopping the marketing machine, is palpable. I am tired of the grind and relieved at the prospect of not having to create patron lists, print programs, run box office, schedule rehearsals, and try to get press. Do I want a position of authority and responsibility? Or do I want to do my art, and let other people run the show?

In my upcoming year-long art journey, now working titled “Pause: Chronicles from a Stage Coach” I intend to find out.

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7 thoughts on “Being a Fundraiser – Or Not

  1. I started to write congratulations here and then I thought, that’s not it. You and your creations are NOT childish. They are vibrant expressions of our times and lives. Don’t stop creating. I, too, am frustrated with the pitch for funding, whether it be searching for a new client or getting a current client to pay up. It’s stressful and it’s not where my passions lie. And. There we are. I love you.

    • Thank you, dear KC, for confirming the validity of my feelings and supporting me in fundraising, which we both dislike, and in art, which we both love. Let’s find a way to have what we want without so much of what we don’t want.

    • I have had and continue to recruit interns, but fundraising is not an entry position. I do have a wonderful friend Susan Santaniello who is working on fundraising now, but she has the necessary attributes – contacts and experience.

  2. Pingback: Being a Fundraiser – Or Not | Tinseltown Times

  3. I love this post. It reminds me of the story in The E Myth revisited by Michael Gerber. The book explains why most small businesses fail. What you are talking about in the post is exactly what the main character in this book is going through. Have you read it? It might be a stretch but I think it’s time to look way way outside of the traditional ways of running the business of theater. I can’t wait to hear about what you find on your journey.

    • Hi, Michelle. Thanks for your comment. I have not read it but certainly will check it out. And your idea is exactly what I intend to do – go way outside the box, and also to keep my own needs to make art on the top of my priority list. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.

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