Radical Hospitality

This is super cool. Let me be completely open, a friend works at this theater, so I am doubly inclined to think this is cool. Radical Hospitality entails making a high number of tickets to Mixed Blood’ s performances free, thereby  “erase[ing] economic barriers in pursuit of building a truly inclusive, global audience.” (I think they presented on the initiative at TCG this year.)

The Minneapolis theater scene is on fire right now, and I love that. The Mini-Apple is one of my favorite places in the Midwest, and despite the profound cold that persists there, it has developed a vibrant and challenging arts scene that has brought us plays from The Playwright’s Center and  cat videos at the Walker Arts Center.

I have explored, in other contexts, the impact of making a product or service free. The literature is overwhelming in favor of “low cost” as opposed to “no cost” for the precise reason that value and cost are intimately tied together. Human beings have been trained by the market to believe that price and value are connected. (Read about that here, and listen to the Planet Money podcast on the same.) I also have personal experience with high rates of attrition (at performances, workshops, etc.) that are free events, or when the value of an event is not communicated effectively.

But I think this is a rad idea, and I am excited that it is in its second iteration. Free theater!

I am interested in “free” as it is usually such a positive association in my mind. I like share-culture, and open sourced software, and Creative Commons licensing. But then my practical experience still tells me that participants and audience members don’t perceive the value of a “free item” unless it is communicated to them in a very clear way.

For a summer, I worked as the Associate Producer on a site-specific dance and performance festival in Lower Manhattan. Sometimes it was weird, but mostly it was amazing. We had so much fun. Because it was site-specific, many of our audience members came to us by happenstance, which somehow increased their perception of value. We performed in front of the NY Stock Exchange for one show, and these construction workers would stop their work, come over and watch the dance every day, giving me tips and feedback on how to make the piece better. It was amazing. The perception of value was extremely high. Conversely, when we would offer workshops to participants for free, and 20 would sign up and only 7 people would show. The perception of value was extremely low. Perhaps the difference is that there was not the same dedication of time (also a limited resource) to the show, whereas the workshop was an hour in front of the computer during dinnertime.

But in general, as I wrote, I think free = good. The challenge is to communicate value.


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