Thursday, March 11, 2010

Economic Report: Six Months Summary!

These economic reports exist for two reasons.
First, to provide full transparency and disclosure of our financial matters. Second, to summarize and document the progress of our experiment in alternative economics. We've now been conducting this experiment for 6 months, performed the show 72 times and traveled some 42,000 miles.

To be clear: we do not think touring theatre is going to bring the rev. What we think is that if the rev we want is coming, it will come riding in on a radical post-capitalist economy. We hope touring with theatre will allow us to demonstrate and test for the existence of the social norms and informal relationships constituting this radical economy. We hope to participate in this economy's discovery and development and hope our successful participation, publicly shared, will encourage others to participate as well. In short, the hypothesis of our experiment is: How far from possible is what we are doing?
Note 1, on participation: touring theatre is not the full extent of our participation in radical alternative economies, it may soon be the least of our participation. We're currently (literally as i type this in the car) moving to join efforts to form an egalitarian intentional community in Arawak City.
RESULTS: Our account balance after 6 months of touring is $2229.68.
Don't jump out of your chair and shout eureka just yet. We're not scientists, this experiment is inextricable from our actual daily lives, and as a result, our methods are far from pure, compromises were made and that number is actually pretty complicated.
Note 2, on compromise: We recognize that compromise is unavoidable, the new economy does not spring whole from the old, but develops peicemeal over time. We're identifying these compromises for a specific purpose here, and that purpose is not some kind of shame or moral purity. Morality is stupid.
Our experiment tests the viability of a post-capitalist form of relations in both production and distribution, but our procedure involved and depended on other forms of relations.

Production Compromises. Our production form is modeled on DIY methods. We're hands-on, low cost, learning-as-you-go producers without hierarchy, arbitrary division of labor, or exploitation. All assets, projects and income are shared fairly by the producers. This is easy, because there are only two of us involved and we communicate and cooperate easily. The issue is unpaid labor. The $2229 balance does not reflect any payment for our time or labor. The project prevented Kate and I from doing any other income earning work for these six months and only provided for part of our expenses (less than $300 in purchased food and some immeasurable quantity of donated food and lodging from our generous hosts and audiences). We had to spend about $7,500 from our savings to live for those six months ($3731 for ben, $3700 for Kate). This money was earned by wageslavery, which makes our participation in the project dependent on us having earned and saved up under the capitalist system. Pursuit of a truly viable alternative form of production would require some portion of this be deducted from the balance.

Distribution Compromises. There are a number of ways theatre producers can fund their projects. The true measure of our experiment is whether or not we can sustainably fund our project on post-capitalist methods. The $2229 balance above includes incomes from other funding methods. Some funding came from patronage (around $1200 from friends and family, $760 from institutions of higher education, most of which we haven't actually received yet). Some from commodification ($241 in our cut of door cover charges).
Note 3, on funding models: patronage is when people who don't necessarily value the specific show fund it for arbitrary reasons like social status, corporate image, or some disgustingly romantic notion like "the inherent value of art". I'm quite certain our family members would not have been so generous if they stumbled upon anyone else performing this show. The sponsorship from universities is somewhat less arbitrary, as it does come from tuition that student groups are choosing to allocate to us, but we still find the indirectness of such funding as inconsistent for the purpose of our experiment. The commodity form (when it comes to something like theatre) is when the producer sells tickets and then blockades the door to prevent anyone from seeing a show without paying.
Modified Balance. If we removed the patronage and commoditification income, the balance would become $28. If we paid ourselves- whether based on actual living expenses, or a poverty level income (it's about $1,200 a month either way) the balance would become almost $5000 negative. If we modified for both, we'd be over $7000 in the hole, that's before even considering the expense of purchasing a shitbox car and fixing it up for the tour. In short, our project is fatally dependent on compromises. But we knew that when we started out. This project was designed to only really succeed in a post-capitalist economy.
Note 4, on success: this all assumes of course that our problem is not artistic. It could very well be that our project is doomed because our show sucks and we're simply no good at theatre. There's not much we can do about this. We're doing the show we want to do the best we can, and as much as compromising on the finances sucks, compromising the show itself seems far worse. Indeed, precisely identified and financially transparent compromises seem far more resistant to capitalist recuperation than ambiguous and unclear compromises made in the content, message or presentation of the show itself. I suppose that's debatable, but it seems like there are plenty of other folks already experimenting with ambiguous ironic gestures that slip a little revolution into their otherwise slickly designed anti-capitalist spectacles. We shall see which proves more useful in the long term.
What have we learned from our failure? When we try, in our unscientific and disorganized way to crunch the numbers we do find some hopeful trends in our experiment's results. First off, we managed to perform 64 of our 72 shows with no required payment. These shows earned over $3700 of our income. Which is more than the patronage and commodification incomes combined. The average income from these shows was about $62, while the average income from the shows with a required payment was $48. Bad news is sponsored shows averaged $288. Also, the payment per person was higher at shows charging a cover. Even worse, those shows were more likely to involve a split, so what we're tracking is only our fraction of the income. In other words, if you take into account the venues and other artists we performed with, capitalist forms may have generated more income for the lot.

Secondly, on a good note, we discovered first-hand how vast and diverse the communities of resistance and anti-capitalist practice are in this part of the world. The shows with completely voluntary payment (passing a hat afterwards, rather than suggested donation at the door) also tended (according to the calculations) to have better discussions, and more often introduced us to collective houses, shared dinners and positive experiences with people living contrary to capitalist expectations. The fact that the value produced and shared in these communities cannot be reflected in an economic report or balance sheet (no matter how hard I try) is evidence of it's resilience and radical potential.

Third, we discovered interesting geographic trends. We did better on average by all standards in mid size and small cities than large ones. Regionally, our categories are kind of weird. We've split the midwest in two. The OH/MI area seems very different from the IL/WI/MN part of the midwest. OH/MI and surrounding areas housed our most reliably good shows (excluding our two shows in Canada, cuz that's too small a sample size). The East Coast was a mixed bag, and the south and rest of midwest (with a few stunning exceptions) tended to be our biggest struggles. Make what you'd like of that. We made a decision to move to the middle of Ohio.

Forth, we learned a lot about politics. Diverse responses from the many audiences helped us better understand the play and our position within capitalism. There is much we're taking away and incorporating into our lived experiences, and future work (theatrical and otherwise). Things we look forward to: 1. Greater incorporation of creativity into approaching daily life rather than separating it into art or "culture production". 2. Advancing methods of radical discourse and praxis through personal interaction and lived experience. 3. Recognizing, exposing and undermining the dualism between resistance and creation, whether it's being reinforced by institutional power or angry anarchists.

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