Magazine article American Theatre

Members with Benefits

Magazine article American Theatre

Members with Benefits

Article excerpt

MINNEAPOLIS: In 2011, the Southern Theatre was on the brink of bankruptcy. Large outstanding debts and financial mismanagement led the theatre to fire its entire staff save one--production manager Damon Runnals, who was then automatically promoted by default to executive director.

Fast-forward three years, and Runnals is still running the Southern as its sole full-time staffer. But the 200-seat, century-old presenting house is more stable now; its budget is $130,000, and it's on schedule to pay off its debts. Southern is feeling secure enough, in short, to experiment with audience development.

This month, the Southern starts ARTshare, a service where for a monthly fee of $18, members can attend as many shows at the Southern as they want, presented by Southern's roster of 15 resident companies. Given that there are as many as three different performances on offer a week, and that membership entitles patrons to repeat visits, this is a bargain (single tickets average about $28).

Runnals readily admitted he borrowed the idea from Netflix and Spotify. "In Minneapolis/St. Paul, we have a lot of theatre--a lot of small theatre. We don't have a ton of large houses. I was frustrated. Why can't I pay a flat monthly fee, like Netflix, and just go see whatever I want, whenever I want?" reasoned Runnals.

The companies are a mix of dance and theatre groups--such as Workhaus Collective, Swandive Theatre and Savage Umbrella--and each is in residence at the Southern for three years. …

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