Monday, September 7, 2009

Economic Report: Week 1

This is the second economic report for Ulysses' Crewmen. The previous report dealt with our initial costs and our intentions. There is also an online spreadsheet with detailed and updated numbers here.

This report (and others following) will deal with the success or failure of our experiment in post-capitalist modes of exchange, our expense report, and lessons we've learned.

Post-capitalist exchange. This is a preliminary explaination, if you're familiar with our economic intentions and methods, skip ahead to "Payment per Person". If not, check this out: Insurgent Theatre has always been an avenue for practice of post-capitalist economics. We started this practice with replacements for the most basic relationship of capitalism: the labor relationship. We went into business with the goal of returning the full product of labor to the laborers. This is kind of like trying to fit a round peg (comunist labor relation) into a square hole (capitalist economy). The idea was not to succeed, but to learn from the attempt. Rather than tossing around economic theories in some kind of classroom, we decided to focus on economic practice in the real world.

This focus remains today, but on this tour we're applying the method to not just the labor relation, but also the exchange relation. We haven't coined a term for our exchange relation yet, but it's based on direct consumer empowerment, voluntary payment, and personal connection. How it works is simple: anyone can see our shows for free, but those who value them and want to see us succeed, come back, or create more shows will pay for them. This post on Insurgent Theory (my other blog) describes this situation and mode of exchange in more detail.

As that post states, one of the goals of the Ulysses' Crewmen tour is to demonstrate whether or not the post-capitalist mindset is present in American society enough to sustain our endeavors. Our goal is not to change the political economy by changing people's minds, but to provide evidence suggesting the degree that people's minds are already ready for a new political economy, thus encouraging more to practice this economy, developing it and spreading it further through real-world practice rather than political application of academically derived theories.

Payment per Person. One key measure of our experiment's success is 'payment per person' (or p/P) this is the average donation per audience member. Comparing this number to typical ticket prices is misleading, because mandatory ticket prices might reduce audience attendance. For example, if our approach brings in 100 people paying an average of $5, it is more sustainable than requiring $10 and only getting 40 people willing to pay. This of course gets all kinds of muddled up when you think about consumer mentalities and the fact that (in the worst example) bourgie theatre people tend to think that if a show isn't demanding $40 it's probably not worth their time. Again, we're a round peg, and they are the squarest of holes.

In addition, our audience numbers include people who A. set up the show for us, B. feed us (and we've had some great meals from very generous people) C. let us crash on their couch. I'm assuming these bartered exchanges often replace money in the hat, which makes sense, because they are more valuable.

This week! We've performed the show 6 times since leaving Milwaukee for a total of roughly 100-120 people. These shows earned $420.50 total. Which is an average of around $3.80 p/P. This number is not an accurate representation of the average voluntary payment per audience member, because not all the shows functioned under our experimental economic system. Mess Hall was free and Rhino's was admission-based, so taking out those audiences (50 people) and that money ($67) will give us the average p/P for shows based on voluntary requested payments for our first week: Roughly $5.89 p/P.

TOTAL: If we add in the numbers from our shows in Milwaukee it looks like this: People: about 140. Payment: $556.50. p/P: $3.98 This means the shows in our "home town" did worse than on the road, which is initially curious. If direct-connection and desire to succeed is what encourages payment, then you'd think the community we've been working in for 6 years would be the most supportive. In actuality, the community norms (in Milwaukee and elsewhere) is to support touring acts. Local bands often pass on 100% of the door to touring acts, so being local gives the impression that you don't need money the way touring groups do, and discourages payment. Also, we're in the process of moving out of Milwaukee, which means our relationship to that community is sort of strained right now.

Looking more closely at these contributions, as we unravel the cash at the end of the night, we often find $10 and $20 bills, and sets of fives and ones folded together, which seems to indicate that our audiences are often composed of a few people who contribute significantly, and many who give little or nothing. If payment correlates to presence of post-capitalist mindset, it seems like there are a few people in each place who've got it, and many who don't. Either that or some people who've got it, just don't much like the particular thing we're doing (which is entirely possible. We are doing weirdly intense oppressive confrontational theatre here).

Expense Report: This week! Discounting the initial investment, costs and donations, our "operating expenses" have been $140 and normal earnings have been about $550. Our stock of merch, and materials hasn't been depleted much. Our initial $134 of bulk foods from the Coop is mostly still intact. We've been eating restaurant food out of pocket more than we should be, and we've also been fed really well by some of our hosts, which is GREAT! So it's pretty accurate to say that we earned $410 doing our first 9 shows. That's an average rate of $45 a show.

Once we put the initial costs and donations back in, we're up $800 ($1100 in donations helps). Once we put the costs of the car in, we're $4200 in the hole. At $45 a show we're going to have to do the play 94 more times before we'll have a positive balance sheet. That's a lot of shows.

Summary: I'm glad we're not losing money on the road. We're obviously not doing this for money, but if what we're doing isn't sustaining itself economically, then there's no way we'll be able to keep doing it for long. The goal of our experiment is not to prove what we're doing is lucrative, only to demonstrate if it's at all possible without quickly going broke.

The main hurns here is the car. We're hoping to get the check engine light off permanantly at a mechanic in Charlottesville tomorrow, and hoping to not pay too much for it. We've got to either improve our earnings or get serious about soliciting donations to cover some of these costs.

Lessons! The main economic lesson we've learned so far is to plan ahead much more regarding the vehicle. By letting the car arrangements wait until the last minute, we committed to a vehicle that may end up costing much much more than we'd planned for. The multitude of uncertainties surrounding repairs and costs is also very stressful and frustrating.


  1. I think it would be interesting to see the p/P data analyzed in a number of different ways.
    By state, by location, by general age group
    (the show with the majority of high-schoolers vs. college-aged vs. post-college audiences)
    I'm kind of a numbers nerd that way, and like rearranging data to see the various results.

    I also wonder if the Milwaukee show at the end of the month will be a bit more generous considering you are now "on tour"

    Good luck with the car... I think you should name it Bessie.

  2. Cool. By next week we should have more variation along those lines to choose from. It's too bad our sample set will probably never get big enough to overcome all the intervening variables (location in the city, venue, school schedules, etc etc) and get really reliable results.

    On ages, it's interesting, this week we've interacted with leftists and radicals at almost every stage of their lives, from noisy adolescents, to inspired college students, to hardscrabble recent grads, to people who've spent 20-40 years carving out a place where they can live and work.