Hannah Nicklin, 27 January 2013

Called by: Hannah Nicklin (HN)

Attended by: (finishing attendees:) Jo Crowley, James Baker, Clara Giraud, Laura

Mugridge, Tom Frankland (+ Jowan Frankland), Daniel Pitt, Gloria Lindh, Jaye

Kearney, Joanna Ridout, Natalie Querol, Leyla Asadi, Dave Holmes, Paul Whitlock


To begin with HN introduced the reasons she wanted to call the discussion - she

emphasised that starting with crowd funding was more a way of killing the ghost of a

focus in paying for performance that she found particularly offensive, and wanted to

discuss other alternative manners of changing the way we pay for and how we discuss

‘value’ in the arts. She explained that the ‘3 times’ were once through taxes, once

through a ticket, and once through the crowd funding system - punishing your peers

and supporters for wanting your work to happen didn't seem very smart. She

wondered if there were other ways audiences (with a caveat that should be read into

the use of this word throughout - about the use of the word ‘audience’ - i.e., an

‘audience’ isn't an amorphous blob! It's a person or collection of people in front of an

object or event, and different each time, and dispersed after) might be able to support

an artist or venue, and if there might be a better conversation to be had about value

and worth with regards to ticket prices - an ongoing relationship that also included data

in the equation. She also stated a slightly more radical belief that no subsidised

theatre should have a fixed ticket price.

The discussion then began. Here are some of the key points that came up out of it:

Tickets in no way communicate the actual monetary cost per person of putting

together a piece of theatre/performance/art - and as such they are a barrier to

communicating value (monetary or otherwise) to an audience.

There was general agreement that it would be beneficial for venues companies and

artists to be actively open about their finances

There was a general concern that the biggest barrier to ticketing conversations was

venues - who make a concerted effort to ‘set’ prices, which (they hope) reflect the

‘quality’ of their offerings

It was noted that research shows with regards to ‘donate’ buttons, it is best practice to

include ‘suggested amounts’ - more effective

HN talked about her experience running Performance in the Pub

(http://performanceinthepub.co.uk - PitP) and opening up her finances to audience

members - each show's costs were posted on the door, and a break even donation of

‘£5’ suggested for the pay what you can evening. She has so far not received an

average donation of less than £5.

The benefits of pwyc in a world of so much accessible, streaming, try-for-you-buy

(opportunity to fall for a music/film/book/game before you buy) entertainment and

artwork is that it allows people to access a high risk transaction with lower risk - you

are still ‘risking’ your travel and time, but the ticket barrier is taken out of the equation.

HN emphasised that a big part in getting PWYC to work in PitP was the conversation

she had with every person on the door - being visible, part of introducing shows but

also on the door, saying hello, explaining when and how people could donate if they

wanted to - offering stickers and badges and cookies/mince pies for different levels of

donation - this was vital in connection people to the process as well as the product

they were contributing to.

It was asked by most - ‘but can this scale?’ - HN suggested that actually, Apple might

have a particularly good model for this - their ‘geniuses’ - their names set them apart

from assistants straight away and the way that they welcome, advise, and show

knowledge was important to the full experience of buying an apple product - the level

of ‘ownership’ people feel over the product. HN suggested that PWYC when done

effectively might include extra time before and after a show, with drinks and nibbles

and artists or performers to chat to - convened by a new kind of active role for ushers,

talking about the show, offering ways to donate, answer questions, offer subscriptions

as well as long term donations… Dave from Theatre in the Mill explained that they call

their ushers ‘hosts’ and people agreed this was a brilliant start.

Leyla, previously of Northern Stage spoke about their experiments with PWYC, but

said that there was no opening up of conversation about donation - and that it was

advertised as a ‘free’ season, which didn't encourage donations.

Generally it was suggested that the expereince was the venues were so interested in

setting their ‘own’ pricing scales - that they didn't want to ‘price down’ their work etc.,

that they would be a real barrier to any shift in practice. HN suggested that there

needed to be room for experiment - what if there was a better system no one was

using because no one would trial it? She explained she was going to attempt to book a

tour of her new show, and ask each venue if they would consider a pwyc pricing with

‘suggested donations’ at the typical ticket price - others wondered if the average might

be less but more people might attend bringing in the same income, but greater

audience numbers.

HN wondered if a venue or few might be persuaded to run a ticketing experiment

where 1 of 5 shows was pwyc, and where different ‘suggested donations’ and levels of

contact were used. - Is this the kind of research ACE should fund?

It was pointed out that venues are likely to be reluctant considering increasing ACE (+

government rhetorical) focus on ‘earned income’ and fundraising (which does all come

back to how terrible - absolutely terrible - we are as a sector about communicating

what it is we do.

HN spoke about her experience marketing to ‘music goers’ in Leicester with PitP -

simple things like using band poster designers for artwork, and demanding copy that

wasn't ‘theatre’ copy but ‘how would you explain your show to a mate in the pub’.

Why do we use the visual and rhetorical style we do - Gloria suggested it was because

as a sector the highest stakes are actually when we communicate with peers and

funders - to get money and support to make things happen - the problem is we use

this specialist and sector language to talk to NORMAL PEOPLE.

(insert caveat to do with gratuitous use of the word ‘normal’.)

Free tickets, in most people's experience, resulted in massive no-shows, and it was

suggested that as little as £1 ‘deposits’ (that you do or don't get back) are effective.

Then there was a slightly wider discussion about how in a free market economy - how

you price is rarely to do with the cost of producing an item, but rather how you want

that item to be (perceived) valued. HN suggested that wasn't an immovable state, but

important to understand when trying to begin new conversations about paying for


It was suggested that money ‘before’ rather than after is particularly useful, and one

thing organisations could do is open up donations for the *next* show after a current

one (after a regular ticketing experience).

HN suggested that other items of value might be traded for tickets or discounts - a

‘like’ on facebook, or an email address for a ticket. Likewise ‘super’ supporters could

be rewarded - more than 4 £5 donations gets the donator something - stamped

‘loyalty’ cards and a free script or programme.

Someone expressed the worry that pwyc was potentially elitist.

HN wondered if there might be a manner of strapping ticket prices to a % of income.

She was mostly not joking.

why don't we have ‘text to donate’ codes on all of our programmes and flyers?

How do we have a conversation with venues that is fruitful and allows for


How do artists and companies explain how they work aside from when they are *in* a

venue (i.e. all the work that goes in before the show happens)

How better can artists and companies explain to venues that risk *isn't* shared equally

between any touring org/individual and a venue now there are no touring funds, and

especially if the venue is NPO and company/artists aren't.

Do we make losses too happily as a sector?

Should we practice radical unsustainability?

Are we too grateful to audiences to honestly begin a conversation about what how

make and what it costs us.

How do we create the kind of convivial experience necessary to open up conversation

in a touring venue?

Can pwyc open up the question of ownership of venues - the problem of ‘this is not

somewhere I belong’.

A conversation that opened up all the questions. A starting point to begin to find


For what HN intends to do, or has done about it look at her blog post on PWYC at PitP



And Digital Hat here: http://digitalhat.co.uk

She also thinks she might open a multi arts venue somewhere, if no one will let her

play with theirs.

Many thanks to all who took part, an earnest, passionate and well informed

conversation. Though the absence of venues from the conversation could be seen as


- @hannahnicklin


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