Money. More specifically, the desperately present lack of it. For aspiring theatre-makers, art-crunchers and indeed any professional cash-avoiders, the premise of asking for money is an awful one. Doubly so if you’re
a) English (Money, darling? Oh let’s not talk about money, not in front of the sandwiches)
b) fairly new on the creative scene– why in the hell should anyone take a punt on what you’ve got to peddle, when Shakespeare and Andrew Lloyd Webber are all we’re ever going to need for a balanced theatrical diet?
Arts Council England probably cast one frazzled eye on you and bellowed “BACK OF THE QUEUE, YOU HOUMOUS-EATING UNWASHED” and your family have already spent years of their hard-earned cash to put you through university, only to see their dreams of you being a quietly successful barrister crushed, mangled and transformed into a two-hour site-specific movement piece entitled Grief Of The Cow. In short, you’re going nowhere. And it’s taking ages.
The other thing you must remember is that we theatre-makers, we creative cringers, we scarf-wearing perpetual stretchers, are fully aware that what we do, who we are, the dreams we have and the projects we undertake are ludicrous. Leaping about, writing things down, forcing people to say things out loud and then getting other people in to sit on chairs and make them pay to listen to it, and no-one’s illnesses are cured, and no-one’s plumbing gets fixed and it’s just USELESS is what it is and for goodness sake don’t we realise that PEOPLE ARE DYING and the NHS is being dismantled as we speak and do we REALLY THINK that what this country really needs right now is ANOTHER load of hair-style sporting t-shirt wearers with lofty ideas about theatre and comedy when it turns out that all the money in the British Isles has been put in the boot of a Nissan Micra and driven off a cliff? No. We are painfully aware of that. We don’t deserve any money. We’re not saving lives. We’re putting on hats and silly voices and we’re doing quite a bit of shouting under some warm lamps. Please, we don’t want to flourish in order that other things, the real things, will die. What we do isn’t as important as lots of things. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Asking for money is quite hard, is my point.
What we need, it seems, is a way to present our case to people. People less caught up with the More Important Things Than Us, and less directly related to us by blood. A way to test our theory, our tentative theory that we should continue to create things, by giving the power, the decision-making, to the people who quite rightly control our futures – the audience. Something that allows us to explain what we’re trying to do, to lift the curtain on it all and honestly confess what we need and why we need it, in a way that takes into account that when it comes to funding, no one party holds the key to financial success, because that’s not how money works. Lots Of Money is just money made up of many small bits of money, and it can and should be harvested accordingly. No-one has to give a lot, if lots of people give very little.
Crowd-funding – sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Wefund – gives theatre companies the chance to do exactly that. It gives fledgling companies, and indeed established artists, a chance to ask the question – should we keep doing this? And if the answer is yes, they will be given the chance to carry on. The proof of the worthiness is built in.
And, in my opinion, that is quite wonderful. It’s doing what marketing has been trying to do since time immemorium – it’s getting people to part with money based on nothing except genuine emotional investment, on a real belief in the worth of a product, or a company. It’s allowing those people to then spread the word – and they do, the thing is is that they actually do – of your venture out to their personal and professional networks, creating links where before there were none, creating awareness.
I’m certainly not saying that crowd-funding is perfect. Invariably, those companies with powerful social networks will do better, faster, than companies without. It’s almost impossible to cram all the ins and outs of your company and project into a five minute video (the usual method of choice when it comes to presenting your case), and yes, it could well be that within a year, two, three, we are so inundated by pleas for micro-funding that the whole thing collapses under its own weight. But, at its core, there is something truly pleasing about the premise. I like that it flies in the face of the apparent understanding that everything we consume creatively should be free. I like that it’s a call to arms to anyone and everyone who has felt a connection with a piece of art. I like that it demands proof of their belief in it, that it’s a shameless request that they actively become part of the company’s success or failure.
Admittedly, as a recent Kickstarter convert, I am somewhat biased. But I’ll tell you something – nothing gives a creative team the fires of industry like the knowledge that people, real, human people with real jobs and bills and kids and a million other utterly reasonable things to spend their genuinely hard-earned cash on, have instead – bafflingly – decided to help you. It is a truly amazing thing. It makes you want to be better. It makes you want to work harder. It makes you desperate to prove those wonderful people right.
Yes, we’ll never do anything truly useful. And trust us, we don’t feel good about it. But if enough people believe that we should just shut up about it and crack on regardless, then that’s enough. And at the end of the day, nothing soothes the hurt of crippled plumbing like a cracking good play.
Natasha Hodgson is a founder member of Kill the Beast Theatre, which recently raised more than £3,000 on Kickstarter to take its comedy The Boy Who Kicked Pigs to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. You can book tickets here, and find out more about the company on its official site.