When The Playwrights Realm Producing Director Roberta Pereira saw a theatre donor buy a $1 ticket to see a show recently, she knew something wasn’t working. “We were seeing that the audiences that were coming were mostly white and a lot of them were insiders already,” says Pereira.
That was defeating the purpose of The Realm’s original 1 to 5 Ticket Drive ($1 tickets for the first five previews of a show), aimed at diversifying the audience. It’s not just the price point that’s a barrier to access—a point Pereira says many theatre companies stop at once addressed through discounts. Schedules, ticket availability, and inclusivity in productions can deter audiences.
So what to do?
Step one: Create a ticket initiative that allows all theatre-goers to participate. A Ticket for Every Budget is a three-price point program with $1 Welcome seats during previews ($5 after), $25 Affordable seats during previews ($30 after), and $50 Pay It Forward seats during previews ($60 after).
The Pay It Forward seats subsidize the Welcome seats. “They were inspired by things like Toms, where you buy a pair of shoes and someone else is gifted a pair of shoes,” Pereira says.
The initiative is the brainchild of Playwrights Realm Marketing Manager Francisco Mendoza, who did a lot of research before settling on the program. Mendoza, who won the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Playwriting, looked at various discount offerings, including those at Ubuntu Theater in California, The Public Theater in New York City, and even the Panera restaurant pay-what-you-can menu.
“In most Off-Broadway theaters, the average ticket price is high when compared to other forms of entertainment,” says Mendoza. “Yet when houses prove hard to fill, producers resort to comps, which condition audiences to see theatre as something not worth paying for.”
Mendoza sought a happy medium: a program that allowed people with financial barriers to still see shows, while harnessing the generosity of patrons who can pay more. So far, he likes what’s happening. “All ticketing levels have been selling, not just the cheaper ones,” he says. “It’s heartwarming to see audiences responding to the idea of making space and welcoming new audience members into the theatre!”
With a company staff that is more than two-thirds people of color, Playwrights Realm is able to take advantage of a built-in network to draw in audiences that reflect the diversity of New York City through community building, not just ticket discounts. “We did a big special pre-sale that was specifically targeted to audience of color. We also got some influencers in the field to do a lot.”
In addition, Pereira and the staff are planning a September 24 performance of Mothers that invites audience members of color to join in an after-show drinks event, with the first round on The Realm.
Community building isn’t just in the diversity of race, however. There was still one more step Pereira needed for The Realm to consider itself one of the most inclusive theatre companies in NYC.
“I started hearing a lot of stories of artists leaving the field, especially women of color, after they become parents because there was no way to do both things well,” she says.
Enter The Radical Parent-Inclusion Project (RPI), which aims to knock down the barriers that prevent parent-artists from succeeding in their careers. From scheduling rehearsals during school time to offering childcare or caregiver stipends, RPI makes it easier for professionals to balance the personal with their artistic endeavors. It’s not just the artists, though—an October 5 matinee of Mothers will offer childcare to all audience members, supported by Broadway Babysitters, all of whom are vetted and CPR certified.
As for what’s next? Pereira says she thinks about getting audiences from the outer boroughs to The Realm. “I think the answer might be, ‘How can we take the work to them?’” she concludes.
For more information about the theatre company, visit PlaywrightsRealm.org.