Seeing the party as half full

My theatre company, upon its inception, developed a fun tradition. Before each of our productions so far we’ve thrown a fundraising party to help pay for production costs. Right from the outset we made a few branding decisions; we would always emphasize the ‘party’ over the ‘fundraiser’, label them as sequential ‘XperiencE’ parties, advertise with the same tone of graphic (variations on the company jester, provided by our volunteer artist Irvin Walkes, scroll down to see the best one yet), and to live up to the party name by making sure each was a unique experience, with the first part of the night boasting some kind of performative aspect, and the second a knock-down, drag-out dance floor party. Each of the XperiencEs to date have met these criteria admirably, I’m proud to say.

We held our third XperiencE this past Saturday. We marketed it like crazy through the usual channels (street cards, email-outs, Facebook etc.), and through some new ones (I invited some highly googleable local bloggers and got the party mentioned in non-theatre social circles as well, for example). We asked a legion of local comic talent to perform for free and they obliged, stand-ups and sketch crews put out for hours throughout the studio. (Thank you, thank you, thank you to all y’all, my guts still hurt from laughing). The ensemble themselves performed their individual tasks efficiently and without complaint well into the early hours. It was, in fact, the smoothest party we’ve ever thrown. The people that came had an amazing time, and I heard this from them all night long. The problem was that not very many people showed up. About half the usual amount of guests, I’d say, and a distinct lack of the regulars. We didn’t come close to our financial target.

And I’m very happy about this.

Here’s why. It drove home to me, finally, that mounting an ambitious, full-length play and hanging your budget on a fundraising party is simply amateurish. We’ve moved beyond small cast and short plays and so must our fundraising move on to the next stage. And perhaps branding our parties as a fundraising series has put some people off, and to them it just looks like we have our hands out again. That’s no good, they’re supposed to be a killer experience first and foremost, something not to be missed. Maybe our agenda has gotten in the way of that. Either way, it’s time to grow up, and evolve. This is an exciting time for us, as we move towards a new level of professionalism. And I promise that all our parties after this will be just for fun, not for profit.

And now it’s time to get to work. That glass ain’t filling itself.

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