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.
May 29, 2016 at 1:31 pm
“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.”
If you’re going to write a blog disparaging Deaf West, you should probably check your facts. The cast didn’t perform in front of the Obamas, they performed at a conference promoting Americans with Disabilities in the Arts at a small auditorium at the White House, but the Obamas were not there and it certainly wasn’t a glitzy nationally televised event (it was indeed live-streamed, though). You seem to be confusing this with something Hamilton-level, maybe because of the acclaim the show received, but it is certainly nowhere near profitable like Hamilton, so this post is pretty misguided. The tour isn’t launched, it was announced- that doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to happen, and cynicism like this definitely doesn’t help. Deaf West IS pretty darn close to a a little-known, struggling theater company- they were hardly remembered until Spring Awakening put them back on the map and shot them to Broadway. They were very nearly bankrupted during the recession. This show didn’t turn a profit unfortunately even though it deserved to, so their pockets aren’t exactly lined right now. Don’t skew the facts here.
Fine, Ken Davenport is treating fans like they have no brains, that is nothing new. I agree they should have been more honest about the logistics of this kickstarter, or at least made sure it wasn’t all-or-nothing so that people could give if they wanted to without the pressure of reaching a goal (and such a high one at that). In an ideal world Ken would back the Tony performance himself, but if we counted on that this performance wouldn’t have happened at all. And that would be a shame. So Deaf West unfortunately ended up with a producer who is far from ideal, and this was the compromise. But don’t bring Deaf West’s reputation into this please. It’s not fair for the wonderful theater company and this beautiful show. This is starting to feel like a witch hunt, and there are more important causes out there than trying to sabotage a campaign to fund a nationally televised performance by deaf actors and the first actor on Broadway in a wheelchair. Just a thought.
May 29, 2016 at 1:38 pm
By ‘launched’ I meant that plans were already underway for a tour. I don’t think it’s misspoken since I said it was announced in a previous paragraph and I also include a link to the information if it’s needed. Their White House performance was live streamed and well-publicized, so no not Hamilton status but def more than any other Broadway show could hope for.
I also agree about your characterization of Deaf West’s nonprofit status. Some of the original critics of the Kickstarter on Twitter have suggested donating directly to Deaf West instead of to this Kickstarter and I’d agree
May 29, 2016 at 10:54 pm
Bring It On was nominated for Best Musical the year it performed where as Honeymoon in Vegas was not. That same year, A Christmas Story (also closed) performed. Both Bring It On and A Christmas Story used their nominations and performances to launch further productions. No one should (or would) want to touch Honeymoon in Vegas with a ten foot pole.
May 29, 2016 at 11:14 pm
true on all accounts, esp that last statement. But lest we forget, this also performed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1FH3phadkM