Rorschach Theatre had two reasons to celebrate last night. On August 19, they debuted Neverwhere at Atlas Performing Arts Center and ended a successful fundraising effort.
Not unusual for nonprofit theatre but there’s a twist. The funds were raised through Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site for creative projects.
“We had been talking about doing it for a while,” explained Rorschach co-artistic director Randy Baker. “But we needed to find the right thing.”
Specifically designed to allow subscribers to help fund art installations, films, new music, and theatre, Kickstarter is for specific, artistic projects. To date, nearly 50,000 projects have been funded through Kickstarter, accounting for approximately $750 million pledged.
Baker and his co-artistic director Jenny McConnell Frederick thought Neverwhere would be a good fit for this new way to raise funds while producing a show that fit with Rorschach’s aesthetics.
Adapted for the stage by Robert Kauzlaric, Neverwhere is based on the debut novel of eclectic English author Neil Gaiman. The book has been described as a “fantasy with dark, hypnotic power.”
It concerns an unassuming business man who gets pulled into a parallel world deep below the London Streets. “Neverwhere is about a dark wonderland within the sewers and the Underground of London,” according to Frederick. “You have the people who live below, the forgotten people, mingling with the people from above.”
Baker and Fredericks echoed Rorschach’s love of pieces that others find impossible to stage. They pointed out a stage direction from Kauzlaric’s script:
“THE GREAT BEAST OF LONDON enters. As it lurks around the edges of the light, only brief glimpses of the creature are visible. It is a creature of impossible size, of hooves and tusks, steaming flanks and glowing red eyes, its hide bristling with broken spears and shattered swords.”
That was all it took, according to Fredericks. “We looked at this play and it was magical and visceral and we knew it was a Rorshach play.”
They also felt it was the perfect vehicle to inaugurate their first Kickstarter campaign. “You have a big show based on a book with a cult following,” Baker declared. “And it’s a younger, hipper way to give money although people of all ages can participate. This show seemed like a good fit.”
Rorschach’s pitch on Kickstarter
They set a goal to raise $5,000 for the 31-day campaign running roughly parallel to their rehearsal period. One of the kickers of Kickstarter: in order for a project to be funded, it must reach the goal. “It’s all or nothing,” explained Baker. If an artist or company does not reached the agreed upon goal by the ending date, the project is not funded.
Much like a public television fund drive, perks are offered as an incentive to pull in more donors. Baker said Rorschach offered a range of premiums to suit all levels of donations, each one building on the previous level. “It was fun coming up with what we would offer.”
Backers could get their name in the program for $10, or for $50 get two free tickets to the show. “They would come out ahead on that one,” said Baker, since it’s cheaper to donate the $50 and get the two free tickets than buy two tickets at $30 each.
Other levels offered Rorschach t-shirts, an original rendering of one of the show’s costumes, a chance to meet and hang out with the cast, and, at the top level of $1,000 or more, a walk on role in Neverwhere.
Closes September 15, 2013
Rorschach Theatre at
Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Thursdays thru Sundays
How did Rorschach do with their first Kickstarter project, with or without the perks?
They met their $5,000 goal and by August 19 when the campaign closed, Rorshach had received 155 pledges for a total of $7,080.
“I will say this is the most fun we have had fundraising,” Baker beamed. “What is great about Kickstarter is that crowdfunding tends to build a bigger community. All of these 155 donors have come together to help put on something interesting.”
“The take away is hopefully that these folks will stick with us and become part of the Rorschach family. And they will come see us even when we’re not doing something based on a Neil Gaiman book.”
Frederick and Baker both said they have learned a lot from the experience of combining a Rorschach production with the new micro-philanthropy of Kickstarter.
“We will definitely do this again for the right project,” said Baker.
Neverwhere continues through September 15, 2013, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Washington, DC.