Who doesn’t love a good NPR pledge drive? Well, fasten your tote bags, activist theatergoers: The tradition of high-minded hat-passing has come to Broadway. We told you earlier about Barry Weissler’s tantalizing announcement that The Scottsboro Boys could return to Broadway if enough prospective buyers go to scottsboromusical.com and make a nonbinding pledge to purchase seats at the “special price of $99,” and so now we have the equally tantalizing possibility of a new era of Kickstarter theater. Are we looking at a world where theatrical audiences decide theatrical content by direct-deposit, er, direct democracy? By pledge plebiscite?
Well, not quite, and not right now. Producers, major nonprofits, and the capital they generate are still the carbs in the belly of Broadway’s metabolism. But MoveOn.org-style attempts at public outreach seem to be growing more numerous and more urgent. To revisit the NPR thing for a second: Public radio has, of late, taken to reframing its periodic hat-passing as an exercise in wallet democracy. With your pledge, you’re voting for the programming you want. Well, wasn’t a similar idea — the notion of bringing semi-democratized micro-capital to Broadway — floated by producer Ken Davenport last fall, as he explored options for crowd-financing Godspell?
Theater has always been a bit of a faith-based initiative, but producers are rarely so open about passing the collection plate. Weissler’s “Let them put their money where their e-mails are" may not be much of a rallying cry (he really ought to hire a lyricist), but it raises interesting questions. We’re already seeing the decentralization of the theater-industrial complex: Just look at all those eager little names floating in a gnatlike word cloud over the show title in your latest Playbill. We’re really just an order-of-magnitude or two away from micro-financed theater. This could mean voting for your season (new work and revivals) with a campaign-donation-size ticket pledge. What would this power to the people mean, exactly? Great new works? Or, if the Glee demographic gets involved, nonstop revivals of Seussical?
Play out this postapocalyptic scenario with me, electorate. Tell me if you think a micro-financed theatrical landscape is a good thing, or even how it might play out.