Yesterday, Deaf West Theatre began a Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 to perform at this year’s Tony Awards. Their Broadway production of Spring Awakening garnered a Best Revival of a Musical nomination, as well as a nod for director Michael Arden. The show was critically acclaimed for adapting the original punk-rock musical for a deaf cast and for incorporating sign language into the spoken dialogue and choreography. The cast also performed at the White House as part of a celebration of inclusion in the arts. The show closed in January after a limited run.
The campaign has raised $45k towards its $200k goal, which Deaf West claims will be used to “to fly our cast back to New York, we have to get the costumes and instruments and props out of storage, we have to pay for rehearsal space since we don’t have a theatre…and the actual expense of performing on the broadcast!”
Performing at the Tony Awards means having a nation-wide platform for the latest shows appearing on Broadway. For a currently-running show, this is usually an unquestionably necessary marketing investment for a producer in the hopes of drawing in summer tourists. For a closed show, a Tony Awards performance could mean building hype towards a national tour and other future incarnations of the show, or simply a way to document the show’s successes in front of a (much) wider audience. Spring Awakening falls into the latter category, but already has announced a national tour in 2017. Deaf West, its producers, its cast (even those who may not be in the national tour),and creative team will certainly receive more attention from the broadcast.
Then, there’s the more artistic rationale for the broadcast. A televised performance would widely promote Spring Awakening’s message of inclusivity, acceptance, and integrity, especially towards people with disabilities. D.J. Kurs, artistic director of Deaf West, says, “There’s just one night a year that theater gets this platform. Our performance will be an undeniable statement to the world that theater is for everyone.” While this statement is not entirely true (Spring Awakening and other musicals have multiple opportunities nowadays to appeal to nationwide audiences, including performances on morning and late night shows and the livestream of its White House performance), a Tony performance would definitely be a testament to arts inclusion in a year full of discourse on diversity in theater.
But who should really foot this $200K bill? Many closed shows have tried to find funds for a Tony performance and failed. Honeymoon in Vegas, for example, settled on a reunion concert the days after the ceremony after receiving no nominations. Others somehow found the means to perform– Anyone remember that out-of-nowhere performance from Bring It On, co-written by
some guy Lin-Manuel Miranda?
Yes, Deaf West is a nonprofit theater organization (as it emphasizes in the Kickstarter description), but the company and its producers will undoubtedly profit from nationwide attention. This isn’t a little-known, struggling theater company hoping for a boost in the right direction. This is a show with a launched tour, with one of the most successful Broadway producers backing its revival, with several nationwide performances under its belt, including one in front of the Obamas. Despite the honorable intentions of its inspiring cast and creative team, despite the advances the show has gained from its inclusive practices, we are dealing with a FOR-PROFIT Broadway show. Again, its producers WILL profit from this televised performance.
Producer Ken Davenport blogged about the campaign, stating “the financial books are just about buttoned up now. We don’t have $200,000 to spend, no matter how important it is to all of us that this cast get the chance to appear on the show. And honestly, even if we had the money, it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible for us Producers to ask our investors to foot this bill.”
This language is misleading and unethical. Davenport is the leading investor of this show. He famously single-handedly decided to transport the show from L.A. to Broadway. He, his co-producers, and his pool of investors almost certainly can get the $200, 000 to spend. In fact, it’s their job to do so. And if they don’t, well, you lose out on an investment opportunity. For your tour, your production’s legacy, and your cast and creative team. It’s a bit like a corporation asking customers to donate food items for their underpaid actors. That’s an extreme comparison, but one similarly rooted in the language of capitalist venture. It places the burden of charity, and a certain guilt, on anyone other than the people who profit from the inequalities being perpetuated. Davenport’s not Sam Walton, and theatre doesn’t make nearly as much money as bully retailers, but Davenport has everything to gain from your support.
So please, keep your money. This Kickstarter promotes the facade of a grassroots campaign when really, it’s something more of a hoax.