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Creative Crowdfunding: A Musical

James Wenley
Day After Night
Exciting and terrifying. That's how director/producer James Wenley described his crowdfunding campaign, in June, to stage a New Zealand musical 'to its full and fabulous potential'.

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Exciting and terrifying. That's how director/producer James Wenley describes the crowdfunding campaign, currently underway, to stage a New Zealand musical 'to its full and fabulous potential'.

He talks about planning, the personal approach, and balancing building publicity for Day After Night without burning too brightly too quickly in the media.

What are you crowdfunding for?

We are crowdfunding for Day After Night, a brand new original New Zealand musical by writer/composer Benjamin Cleaver. It’s got a full pop-rock musical score and tells story of Harry, a late night drag performer and gay man, who dreams of having a baby. We’re at Auckland’s The Basement for two weeks in September.

How much research, strategic thinking, and time went into the campaign?

With my producer hat I’d been keeping an eye on crowdfunding sites and commentary for a while. Day After Night felt like the right project to dip my toes in – it’s got a built in appeal for the fans of musical theatre, as well as touching on gay themes and current issues like the adoption laws.

I monitored sites like PledgeMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo to see what other people were doing, and read all the resources on The Big Idea! There’s a lot of really useful material out there from people who have run successful campaigns, like this blog about the ten-must read posts before running your own crowdfunding campaign – essential reading!.

Why did you crowd fund instead of using other sources?

Crowdfunding is part of our budget mix. Musicals, even a more intimate one like ours, are notoriously expensive and ticket box office alone doesn’t cover all the many expenses (not the least paying our actors and crew a decent fee for their effort!). We are very grateful for a grant from Auckland Council’s Arts Alive scheme – a great endorsement of the project and my company Theatre of Love’s first professional funding! There’s more money to raise, but if we were successful with our PledgeMe campaign Day After Night will be in very good health. 

Was it part of a wider marketing and business strategy?

We are very conscious that our PledgeMe campaign is an important part of Day After Night’s Publicity campaign – being a brand new work, it will be the first time a lot of people will have heard about the musical, so is a good first step in raising awareness that it is coming up later in the year. Even if people don’t donate now, they might buy a ticket later. Day After Night’s publicist Kristina Hard is actively working on the crowdfunding campaign to help get media stories on the campaign, but also ensuring it doesn’t jeapordise any later media coverage closer to the time when we want to sell those tickets!

Why did you use the PledgeMe platform? What were the pros and cons of it?

I chose PledgeMe because my research told me that most pledgers will be your immediate local networks, it was important for us to use a local site that has everything in New Zealand dollars. I knew too that being smaller, PledgeMe would have a bigger stake in seeing the project succeed.

I found it was very easy to set up our information. It’s been a breeze to ask questions of PledgeMe too – there always seems to be someone around day or night to answer your questions almost instantly!

They’ve been very supportive, and even chose us as one of 10 featured projects at their Pledge Me Auckland launch coming up this Friday 7pm at Khuja Bar. There’s going to be live music, and everyone who attends gets $1 to pledge on their project of choice! Definitely worth going for people interested in crowdfunding.

What ‘rewards’ did you offer? Which were the most popular?

Our most popular so far is a CD of all the shows songs – a great reward for musical theatre fans! It is difficult being a new work, so we released a recording of the show’s opening number so people could get a feel and hopefully like what they hear. Other rewards are shout-outs, DVDs, show tickets, and VIP packages.

What channels, online and offline, did you use to engage with your fans during the campaign?

All sorts going on – Week One has been about engaging our immediate networks and our project link has gone far and wide – all about the initial awareness. We are working now on getting our wider publicity to people the show might appeal too. We’ve also got a few physical fliers out round the place. I’ve found it’s the personal touch though that is most effective – writing personally to people about why we’re doing the show and why we’re asking for support - and that’s something I’m going to keep doing throughout the campaign.

What have you discovered are the pros and cons of crowdfunding?

It's high risk stuff – that makes it both exciting and terrifying! If we don’t raise our full $3000 goal in just under three weeks now then we don’t get any of the money. I find that while there’s still lots of time to go people aren’t moved to pledge – it’s only when the clock ticks down do people act with urgency! So I definitely worry about not meeting the target, and what that would be like.

What feedback have you received?

Really happy so far – there are lots of people who want the project to succeed. One thing that has surprised me is some of the people who has expressed interest in pledging – our very first pledger was a high school colleague I hadn’t seen since graduating. From that we got to have a chat about where our lives were heading, and reconnect, which was worth more than the pledge in a way. You never know how previous friendships you’ve formed will impact down the line – good life lesson!!

Would you do it again? What would you change?

Ask me again when it’s over! It takes a lot of work, and I definitely couldn’t do it for every project I do. Just the special ones like Day After Night. But we’ll see!

Any tips for others wanting to try crowdfunding?

The big lessons I’ve taken to heart are make it personal, have a video, have a publicist, and be realistic about how much work it’s going to take – I’m still learning this one!

Now pitch your project and why we should support it?

Do you love musicals? Would you like to help support a brand new New Zealand musical in Auckland? 
Day After Night is hitting Auckland’s Basement Theatre for a two week season: 18-29th September.

Presented by Theatre of Love, our team includes Musical Director Paul Barrett (Tic Tic, Songs for Guys), Choreographer Lydia Zanetti (Sweaty Hearts Productions), and Director/Producer James Wenley (Jailbait, The Who’s Tommy rock musical).

Benjamin Cleaver has written an entertaining and poignant script and songs about characters searching for love in the wrong places that we can’t wait to share with you.

We are using PledgeMe.co.nz to appeal for support to help us stage the musical to its full and fabulous potential. It's very expensive to put on theatre, and few professional shows can break even on just ticket sales alone.

We love musical theatre, and we don’t believe there are enough original New Zealand musicals being produced. We’re excited about getting new work out to the musical theatre audience!

We feel strongly about the queer themes in the musical. Day After Night comes at a time of growing awareness and a push for equal rights for gay marriage and adoption. One of the big issues Day After Night highlights is that same-sex couples are unable to adopt children. We hope that Day After Night will do its part to continue this conversation. ?

If you want to nourish new theatre work, are a musical theatre fan, or a supporter of gay rights, please consider pledging to Day After Night.

What’s your big idea for 2013?

Theatre of Love’s Season of Obsession working closely with New Zealand playwrights and unusual genres!

* * * The Big Idea 10th Birthday Questions * * *

What does The Big Idea mean to you?

I wouldn’t be producing Day After Night if it wasn’t for The Big Idea. I didn’t know Benjamin, but after putting out a call on The Big Idea, he contacted me... with a full script and score that demanded to be put on! It has been such a great resource over the years for finding actors and collaborators – we’d be so much poorer without the ‘Jobs and Opportunities’ section!

What changes have you noticed in Theatre in the past 10 years?

I’m 23 now – I’ve always loved theatre (musicals!) as a kid, but the last ten years has been by great awakening to adult plays and the power of really good theatre, my education, and becoming a real theatre junkie first through Auckland Theatre Company’s Ambassador program, then when I started reviewing five years ago. One of the big changes I think is the growth of independent companies putting on work – I have so many talented peers. I love that you can go to The Basement every week to see something different, and often original.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the next decade?

Where all these people go to next – they can’t continue to put on theatre on next to nothing forever. Will there be the infrastructure to continue to develop and move up with their careers, or will we lose them?

***
James is a producer and director for Theatre of Love and a theatre critic and blogger for TheatreScenes.co.nz. He is currently studying for his Master of Arts in drama at the University of Auckland. He has directed and produced productions of Jailbait at Galatos, Macbeth and The Who’s rock opera Tommy at the Musgrove Studio, and was the Assistant Director for Auckland Theatre Company’s Young & Hungry smash hit Fitz Bunny: Lust for Glory in 2010.

He was president of Auckland University's Stage Two Productions 2009-2010 and has produced three seasons of the short play program Stir Fried Plays, as well as The Libertine and David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago. In 2011 James was part of the Producing Project, a joint initiative between Dance Studies NICAI University of Auckland, DANZ and MIC Toi Rerehiko to train and develop producers.

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