Pay What You Can Night at “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” and “the arts aren’t real jobs”

Part of the line up of 217 people coming to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 16th.

Part of the line up of 217 people coming to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 16th.

We have a Pay What You Can performance for every production at Taproot Theatre, and this is the line that greeted the cast as they arrived at the theatre the other night. The actors were a) thrilled, b) freaked or c) both to see the eager crowd standing in the heat waiting to get in  — an hour before showtime to see Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.

These PWYC performances are close to our hearts, as they are a blessing to people who – for many reasons – can’t afford a regular ticket.  Seniors, whole families, the unemployed, people with disabilities, students … you name it and I bet they’re here. Many of these people are regulars too, showing up for the serous, thoughtful plays and the lighter comedies and musicals.

After we completed the post-play discussion I was walking toward the lobby and was stopped by an older woman with a walker. “Thank you for doing these performances…” she said and went to to explain how TTC’s PWYC shows were important to her and the only way she could afford to attend live theatre.To the left I saw another woman in a wheelchair, and in the lobby another with a walker. On the sidewalk were a mix of seniors, high schoolers and others. For whatever reason, these people couldn’t afford a ticket – but got seats at this show and were thrilled by the performance and thankful for being able to attend!

...the rest of line  - going around the corner and another 100 feet or so!

...the rest of line - going around the corner and another 100 feet or so!

To those who say that the arts aren’t real jobs or don’t matter, how do you feel about extending affordable access to people who can’t otherwise attend the Arts?  (I’m reacting to some ill-informed comments to a seattlepi.com article on NEA funds flowing to arts organizations. ) IF Taproot Theatre were to get any of these arts-stimulus funds (and that’s a very big IF), it would help us fill the seats with groups (with a small group discount) and people paying full price too — all so that we can afford to have these PWYC shows, provide compelling stories onstage and earn as much as possible. The jabs of  “artists should get real jobs” doesn’t begin to understand the commitment of our staff, artists, technicians and staff who earn a pittance after investing in college and grad school. Nor does it recognize that a society is so much more than commerce, money and consumerism – but it includes softer things that make us fully human like the arts. In our case, in addition to wanting to tell the stories that matter and encourage us, or performing plays in hundred of schools that counter violence and bullying, and teaching kids about theatre and responsibility … we’re committed to being as accessible as possible to our audiences and community.

And although government support to Taproot Theatre is only about 1.6% of our annual budget, it acts like a seal of approva” and opens other doors at foundations and corporations. And like the biblical “widow’s mite”, we’re thankful for anyone who want to help us serve the public.

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