Revolutionary Access: Chapter 1

Posted on January 19, 2012

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As an on-going series, Amanda White Thietje (Director of Radical Hospitality), will give updates on the progress of Radical Hospitality

Hey!  I’m Amanda White Thietje, and I might win the “best job title ever” contest: I’m the Director of Radical Hospitality around here.  I joined the Mixed Blood team in September 2011, two weeks shy of the initiative’s launch.  I jumped at the chance because I suspected then what I know now: Radical Hospitality could be a game-changer for the way people think about going to the theatre. 

Radical Hospitality started, to oversimplify its origin a bit, as this idea about free tickets.

Hours of conversation with the Board, Staff, our community and audiences about what keeps people in the Twin Cities from going to theatre, some obvious themes developed: “too expensive” showed up over and over.

It seemed to the MBT team that rather than discounting tickets, offering “pay-what-you-can” nights or buy-one-get-one admissions (totally valid options), we should eliminate the matter of cost entirely.  This is not a great idea for every company, mind you, and we wouldn’t suggest that it is–it just became clear, over time, that “revolutionizing access” to theatre is a core part of Mixed Blood’s vision and mission.

In an effort to honestly pursue that mission, the company launched Radical Hospitality in September, providing no-cost access to all mainstage productions for any audience member beginning with the 2011–12 season.  Hear me say this (gulp) and mean it—Radical Hospitality is the way Mixed Blood does business now.  As Jack puts it, it’s part of our DNA.

We’ve just finished the first two events in the first Radical Hospitality season – Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s Neighbors and the three-play Center of the Margins festival.  Mixed Blood’s audience demographics are shifting. So far this season:

  • Roughly 40% of Mixed Blood’s general audience is under the age of 30 (compared to less than 30% during the 2010-11 season).
  • 41% of the Radical Hospitality audience for Neighbors were people of color; 22% of our Radical Hospitality audience were people of color at the Center of the Margins festival.
  • 14% of the Center of the Margins audiences identified themselves as being members of a disability community or requiring access services.
  • Of those utilizing no-cost admission to Neighbors, approximately 30% reported household incomes of less than $25,000 annually; for Center of the Margins, that number increased to about 42%.

Of those surveyed at Center of the Margins festival, 385 people were attending a show at Mixed Blood for the first time.  Here’s the punchline, and I think it’s a seriously exciting number: 81 of those people had never attended live theatre before—at Mixed Blood or elsewhere.

So what have we learned so far?

Mixed Blood is devoted to eliminating those barriers to access that keep audience members from attending plays; that means that being “radically hospitable” is more systemic than we originally understood.   No-cost admission addresses one major barrier—money—but other factors must be considered: transportation to/from the firehouse, our guests’ potential lack of familiarity with theater, our facilities shortcomings, etc.   We’re starting that work: through a partnership with VSA Minnesota and Red & White Cab of the Twin Cities, our guests who self-identify as persons with disabilities can take a round-trip cab ride to the theatre for any performance, free of charge.   We learn every day how much more we have to do, and we’re actively working toward building our understanding about “revolutionary access”.

I invite you to join us at the firehouse whenever you feel like it, again and again, to see what we’re working on.  If you want to talk one-on-one about what we do at Mixed Blood, I’m at amandawt@mixedblood.com or at 612.338.0984.

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