Brooklyn Theater Space Wants to Be “Netflix for a Live Performance”

New York City is without a doubt the center of American theater, from the big halls on Broadway to the smallest do-it-yourself spaces. But that does not mean that most performers or theater operators are sweeping money – especially now, more than two years into the plague. Now, Super Secret Arts, a new theater space in Gowanus, Brooklyn, is trying a new twist on the membership model, hoping it will help them pay artists fairly while keeping the lights on.

“You pay $ 25 a month and you can come whenever you want for free,” co-founder Toby Singer told Gothamist. “And it’s really free. Like, it’s the deal.”

Singer’s offer is to build something like Netflix or Spotify, where members pay a monthly subscription fee and pay in exchange for access to all the content they want. While there are a limited number of tickets for the show, Singer says members can sign up for any open venues and go to as many shows as they want, with no restrictions. This means that instead of relying solely on ticket sales or donations, Super Secret Arts can divert this steady stream of revenue to keep the lights on, bring in more risky work and even pay artists.

One of these excerpts is “This Land, These Seeds …”, a performance piece by Bonita Jackson. A combination of dance and monologues, the show is one of the first to take the stage at Super Secret Arts. This is a big change for Jackson, who first introduced it several years ago in the auditorium of the Turtle Bay School of Music in Manhattan, where she worked as an operations manager.

“Most of the things I did in New York were for free: collaborating for weeks, full production and getting paid maybe a $ 50 annuity,” Jackson said. “Say, ‘Hey. I want you to do this piece and not for free, but you’re going to get paid for your time. You’re going to get paid for your art …’? It’s huge.”

While there is a great variety for what Super Secret Arts pays for promotions, depending on their production needs, Singer says the goal is usually to secure about $ 500 a night alongside technical support and rehearsal space.

“A more conventional theatrical environment may hesitate to produce something, or hesitate to give it a stage, because it has not been proven,” Singer said. “They do not know if their audience likes it. They do not know if their donors are going to like it. So our model actually gives us a little more freedom to just program what we would like.”

This funding model is not entirely new to the industry, and is similar to the way traditional non-profit theaters offer seasonal tickets and membership benefits to an audience that is willing and able to pay more in advance. But Heather Shields, who teaches young producers how to navigate the commercial side of the theater as a co-founder of The Business of Broadway, says traditional models struggled even before the plague closed cinemas across the city, and it’s unclear whether those models are still sustainable or fair.

“When you do not pay people equally and fairly, it immediately closes the door on people who do not have a certain privilege. Right? So how do I do that, but also really leave the lights on? That’s what excites me.” Shields explained, “They saw a problem, they’re testing a solution and it’s a solution that seems to me to be something that would be expandable by nature if it worked.”

If it presses for a small performance space like Super Secret Arts, Shields says it could work for a larger and more established theater. And finding new ways to pay for theater may result in artists having better access to audiences, and they will worry less if they can afford to create their own art.

Learn more about Super Secret Arts and its suggestions at supersecretarts.com

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