The Mixed Blood Theatre is blessed with courageous stakeholders – board, staff, artists, funders, audience members, and more. They took the time and depth of thought to cogitate on my seemingly-inane proposal to eliminate the cost of admission so that we, and ultimately many Minnesota theatres, could aspire to attract people that we’d like to have see our work that either weren’t coming or weren’t coming in large enough numbers. Connecting mission with vision with core values with strategic priorities, the board and staff explored barriers to participation via surveys and focus groups. MBA students came in to offer methodology to analyze success and manage expectations. When the board voted, after extensive examination by every committee and the whole board numerous times, the decision was unanimous to launch Radical Hospitality.
The question of how to pay for this shift in financial model followed the decision that it was the right path for Mixed Blood to take to truly walk our talk.
Imperative to the deliberation was that quality not be at all compromised and that there be no perception that Radical Hospitality lived on the shoulders of the theatre’s artists. (Artist salaries actually increased slightly in that first season.) At the core of the conversation was value. Value is on a continuum of cost and quality. If quality remains constant or improves and cost is eliminated, value is optimized (not diluted).
The first season’s audience transformation was breathtaking and heartwarming. A season of seven new, unheard-of plays showed a growth in the numbers of people attending (20% more attended on a weekly basis in 2011-12 than 2008-09, 18% more than 2009-10, and 8% more than a successful 2010-11).
But the “how many” was eclipsed by the “who” that came. 47% of those attending without cost were under 30. 33% had annual income of under $25,000. 30.3% were people of color. 4% claimed never to have been at a live play before!
Was that a novelty? Was it repeatable? In the first six weeks of 2012-13, the trend continues and grows. 60% of Radical Hospitality users are under 30. 37% have incomes under $25,000. 30% are people of color. 5% claim never to have been to a play before.
Radical Hospitality is neither a program nor an initiative of the Mixed Blood Theatre. It is the new DNA of the organization. The entire view of mission delivery and programming is being reexamined. At a time when anyone can see what they want when they want to see it for free on their cell phone, tablet, or laptop, how do we make the case for people to travel to see a show (through a Minnesota winter) at a set time for a chunk of money? The model needs re-thinking and, for Mixed Blood, Radical Hospitality was a first attempt that’s proving to have value at this snapshot in history. It won’t be radical for long- just what we do. Adaptability is our new sustainability.
In a few years the people who have come to Mixed Blood without cost will be compared to those paying to see plays elsewhere in the Twin Cities. The more people who were introduced to theatre through Radical Hospitality that later attend other theatres signifies, to us, success.
Take our audience, please!
-Jack Reuler, Founding Artistic Director