Theatre has been a driving force in my life for as long as I can remember. It has shaped who I am, not only in my career path, but shaped who I am at my core. Because I know what theatre has done for others and myself I want everyone to be able to experience it! But guess what? Theatre is expensive. Most of us working in theatre know that it is expensive to produce, but we often forget how expensive it is to attend.
Theatre is vital to the human experience. It is also something that many people cannot afford. That’s why Pay What You Can (PWYC) performances have always been so important to me.
When we started SDP we had one performance that was dedicated to Pay What You Can. They were always our favorite performances. Being able to talk to people that were seeing live theatre for the first time is a powerful experience. Through those interactions I realized that seeing theatre is something that I have taken for granted. That is when I realized that I wasn’t doing all I could as an artist and as a human to make theatre accessible.
Even though SDP is an inclusive theatre, has sensory friendly performances, and had one PWYC performance per production, it still wasn’t enough. So Brandon and I went to the SDP staff. We all felt the same way. We didn’t know how PWYC productions would be possible, but we knew it needed to be done. From there we took it to the board and they whole-heartedly agreed to support us in this huge leap of faith.
Without any extra funding, grants, or sponsors we all held our breath and made A Lifetime of Christmas 2015 PWYC. I would be lying if I said that opening night was not one of the most terrifying nights of my life! Would anyone show up? Well they did show up and in droves! Audiences we have never seen before, families being able to take all of their children to see a show together for the first time!
With the support of the board we made our next production Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland PWYC. Nearly 1,500 people attended that production. Something else began to happen in Alice. The audience started paying what they could! Audience members that could afford it would drop in the price of ten tickets. Some would drop in a handful of change, both parties being treated with the same excitement and gratitude by the staff.
Audience members that could not afford regular ticket prices were no longer segregated to one night. Everyone despite their socio-economic background could come any night and all sit together and enjoy an evening of theatre. Theatre was now accessible.
So why does SDP do Pay What You Can? Because we can!
It’s not easy and I still get nervous, but I know we are doing the right thing. When we started a non-profit we said that we wanted to do everything we could to do the actual work of a non-profit. For us that includes Pay What You Can productions.
I want to thank every person that trusted in this leap of faith, donated, paid what they could at the door, and every person that will continue to do so. You truly make a difference. You are shaping your community, you are making every one feel welcome, and you are allowing every one to take a moment and look into the mirror that is theatre.
I hope to see you all at our next Pay What You Can production, Fiddler on the Roof!
Co-founder and Executive Director