Friday, August 21, 2009

Explaining the "Model"

A few weeks ago we put out a press release detailing how Combined Artform and PianoFight are expanding their theater management duties in both LA and SF, which prompted local playwright and all around theater blogger Tim Bauer to ask this:

"I'd like to know more about the "for-profit, non-government aided" model. I suspect that's the wave of the future, and would free you up from writing grants and producing the kind of work that you may not want to do but that will sound good to a funder. How's it work and can you share the model with other artists who might want to follow your path? Thanks!"

I can't really speak for Combined Artform here, and to be honest, we're still figuring out what PianoFight's business model is going to be. And I don't really think that our "model" is too different from what most artists do on their own, we've just applied it to a company, but here goes:

1) Produce your own work out of pocket

2) Keep producing until your work is making enough money to pay for itself (ie, you're no longer funding it out of pocket)

3) Keep on producing your own work until it's paying you a living wage

Right now, we're somewhere between steps two and three.

Our basic thinking was that if we get behind something, in this case PianoFight, and work collectively to promote the company as opposed to an individual promoting him or herself, the whole thing would gain traction much quicker with multiple people avidly working towards its success.

PianoFight, thanks to Matthew Quinn, picked up management duties of Studio 250 at Off-Market in 2007, and over the course of the first year a community started to form around the company and venue. We then registered PianoFight as an LLC (which is cheap and easy to do), and had to pay an $800 tax for our first registered year in business in 2008 (which was neither cheap nor easy to do). 2009 marked the first time that anyone in PianoFight received a paycheck (the SF run of FORKING!).

The checks were small considering the amount of work that went into FORKING!, but everyone was paid equally (from the producer to the light/sound tech to the actors), with the idea that over time, as our audience grows and sales increase and the company's other revenue streams begin to grow (theater rentals, merch etc), that those paychecks will get bigger each time we issue them, and eventually it will be a living wage supporting everyone involved.

As I said above, we're somewhere between steps two and three, and we're still figuring this model out. What's liberating about the for-profit model is the freedom it provides to do whatever the hell you want, and change a plan of attack on the fly.

Example: in March of 2008, we expected to have a renter in Studio 250 from April through June, however, a week into March, the renter decided to go to another space. PianoFight was left with a three month hole to fill, and after a few bull session sitting around the theater, we came up with ShortLived, our annual audience judged playwriting competition, which went on to be PianoFight's highest grossing and attention getting production. ShortLived 3 (in 2010), will run concurrently in LA and SF. Because the company has not been beholden to funders or a board, we've had the opportunity to move quickly and without reproach, and learn along the way what works and what doesn't.

I hope that answers your question, Tim, and as I said before, I imagine our "model" is not far from what artists do on their own produce their work til it pays while making career moves which continually provide opportunities to have your work paid for.

If anyone wants to read more about Tim, he's got a great blog, Direct Address, in which he discusses all thing Theater-y and manges to not come across as a cantankerous old-fart like I do.

Tim's also got a show coming up in October, "Zombie Town," which is being produced by Sleepwalkers in October.

No comments: