A handful of arts patrons and US Bank are funding free tickets for all who want to see Intiman's production of David Greigs The Events, which runs from July 18 to August 10 at The Erickson Theatre on Capitol Hill.
Greig's play is a look at the aftermath of a deadly mass shooting. The show features two actors and a chorus, which, as in all the Greek tragedies, represents the figure of the general populace. (In this case, a rotating cast of local community choirs will play the chorus.) Claire is a priest who witnessed the mass shooting, and "the Boy" doubles as the shooter and Claire's boyfriend/psychiatrist. The shooting in the play, according to this favorable review in the The New York Times, was inspired by the racist terrorism of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011.
Intiman's consulting marketing director Wesley Frugé says offering free tickets for all has been one of artistic director Jennifer Zeyl's dreams for a long time, and it also aligns with the theater's mission of wrestling with American inequities.
The question of how to get new butts in seats at plays is particularly difficult to answer in an era of rising income inequality. It's an especially difficult question in Seattle, one of income inequality's capital cities.
"But it's not a question of whether they can afford it," Frugé says. "If they've never been [to the theater], then how do they know what that value is? If we can remove that [cost] barrier, it just seemed like one of the easiest things we can do to broaden that access."
So, recently freed of debt and filled with inspiration from Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis and Theatre Battery in Kent, which have run similar free-ticket programs, Intiman's administrators asked donors for $65,800* to cover the price of tickets and marketing for the show's full run. "It wasn't even a question," Frugé says. "It was like, 'Yes, we have to be part of it.'"
Intiman is still looking for $74,200 to cover production expenses, artist fees, and their general operating budget.
Ticket sales only account for 20 percent of the theater's annual budget, according to Frugé, and they don't cover the cost of their productions. If Intiman was counting on ticket prices to cover costs, administrators would have to set them "ridiculously high," Frugé says. So, like other regional nonprofit theaters, Intiman more or less sets arbitrary ticket prices dictated by their understanding of what the market can bear. Part of the move here, then, is to experiment with breaking out of this capitalistic model.
"Now we can invite people who come see the show for free to support the work," Frugé says. "They can say say, 'This had value to me and I have $10 to throw in. Or this had value to me and I have $50,000 to throw in.'"
Intiman hopes eliminating the price of tickets will "drastically increase" attendance at the show, as it has for shows at other theaters who have tried similar programs. And, eventually, Frugé says, Intiman wants to make all of its shows free. They won't be able to do that until they get more funding, but that's the direction they're going in.
"Let's make the arts a social service," Frugé says. "It's a human right to be able to engage with this art."
The funders—Lauren Dudley, Cynthia Sears, and Marcia and Klaus Zech—have all regularly donated to Intiman over the years, says Frugé. According to The Seattle Times, The Zechs gave $500,000 to help save the theater back in 2007, before it eventually shuttered and restructured into a summer festival. Sears is a longtime resident of Bainbridge Island who created the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
Those interested in getting tickets provided by these nice rich people can follow these rules, pulled straight from the press release:
To receive free general admission tickets for The Events, audiences can go to intiman.org or show up in person to the box office on the day of the show beginning 2 hours before curtain. Each person can receive 1 or 2 free tickets online or in person—Intiman is guaranteeing walk up ticket availability for all shows. Once all tickets for a performance have been given away, a waitlist will be started at the box office for cancellations / no shows. For those audiences who may prefer a more traditional experience, a small amount of advance reserved seating is available for a fee, pending availability (free tickets have priority).
This post originally said Intiman asked donors for $140,000 for the free ticket project. Intiman is currently seeking $140,000 in total funding, which will allow them to hit their budget goals while also offering tickets for the production of The Events for free. The cost of the free ticket project, however, is only $65,800.