ACT Theatre – Yer Doin’ it Right

A Contemporary Theatre, also known as ACT, here in Seattle has been struggling with nearly unsustainable budget deficits like all the rest of the theatres in this country. But, according to this Seattle Times article, they’re doing much better this year:

To boost attendance and income, ACT last year created a new membership program, which offers patrons an “all-access” pass to many of its performances for a modest monthly fee. […] And ACT has kept its multistage playhouse in the landmark Eagles building on Union and Seventh Street bustling, hosting shows by outside groups in its Central Heating Lab series and offering additional play readings and other events.

This is great encouragement for those of us thinking up new models of theatre, how many performances are actually sustainable, etc. The article also notes:

Some of ACT’s 2009 savings, however, were achieved by hiring fewer actors for its mainstage series, and producing more solo and small-cast works.

That is a hard line to walk. We all want to keep more artists employed and produce a variety of works. On the other hand, producing lots of little works instead of a handful of giant productions probably evens out actor- and crew-wise, while having the virtue of keeping more and newer audiences in your house, and costs less for set, lights, costumes, etc. This is a model that small theatre all over the place adopted a long time ago — Balagan, Annex, and my own company, Eclectic Theater Company, have shows nearly every weekend that are often produced by outside companies, while we work on our mainstage shows. So here we have a large theatre with a massive mailing list taking on a tiny nonprofit theatre model and making it work.

This is, of course, to say nothing of their innovative membership. I think I have mentioned the genius of this model before: people forget about their memberships for months on end. I had a gym membership for a year that I hardly ever used, because I just never had the time to get over there, so the gym made a huge profit off of me. I’m sure a lot of that is happening at ACT. On the other hand, I had a Blockbuster membership for awhile where I paid a set amount per month for unlimited rentals, and Blockbuster lost money to me because I was really bored that summer and was in there basically every day. So I’m sure there are ACT members who are doing that, as well, which in the nonprofit theatre world only creates a larger donor base, because now you have loyal fans who are more likely to heed your call for money. So it’s really a win-win — more butts in seats, more word of mouth about your plays, more donors, etc.

So, between the combination of adopting a rigorous season schedule (a la fringe theatres all over the place) and coming up with flexible ticket options, ACT is doing better than it has in years. Good for them! And, I have to say, this gives me encouragement with my own ideas about ticket sales and membership. Hooray for new models of theatre!

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