Dec. 2, 2020

Modest crowdfunding goals seen as ticket for Canadian theatre productions

Haskayne study details how theatre entrepreneurs find funding through Kickstarter
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Modest crowdfunding goals seen as ticket for Canadian theatre productions

Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage, but when it comes to online crowdfunding for Canadian theatre productions, it’s best to think small and local, says a University of Calgary researcher.

“Many other types of art projects benefit from the global nature of crowdfunding — the fact that you can raise money from anywhere in the world,” says Dr. Mohammad Keyhani, PhD, an associate professor in entrepreneurship and strategy at the Haskayne School of Business. “But successful theatre crowdfunding in Canada typically raises small amounts of a few thousand dollars from their local community, just barely enough to get the project they want off the ground.”

Mohammad Keyhani

Haskayne researcher Mohammad Keyhani co-authored study on crowdfunding in Canadian theatre.

Jazhart Studios

Keyhani co-authored a study on crowdfunding in Canadian theatre that was recently published in Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts. The other co-authors are Dr. Safaneh Neyshabouri, PhD, an instructor in the Women’s Studies Program in the university’s Faculty of Arts, and Abbas Amereii, a software engineer at SkipTheDishes.com and former MBA student at Haskayne.

Digital tools 'open up options'

Crowdfunding via online platforms such as Kickstarter offers a way to bring together people willing to fund the development of projects that may not fit traditional methods of financing, such as bank loans or private investors seeking to earn a profit, says Keyhani.

“These digital tools open up options that didn’t exist before for entrepreneurs, especially for those in the arts,” he says. ”A lot of these tools are free or very inexpensive.”

Theatre patrons on Kickstarter typically each make small pledges of money toward a fundraising goal, he says, adding it’s usually within a time limit of about two months. The objective of such patrons is often simply to help make a reality something they’d like to see, says Keyhani.

“It’s like pre-buying a ticket to that theatre performance,” he says. “Maybe you’ll be rewarded by being listed in the acknowledgements.”

Crowdfunding technology has not only opened up a new path for theatre funding, it’s also created a new tool to build engagement with potential audiences, says Keyhani. Due to the fact that people become financially involved in a project, crowdfunding helps build up anticipation to see the finished production, he says.

Such support is often leveraged from a core of friends and family in the local community, says Keyhani. “A lot of times, the initial growth of funding for a Kickstarter project comes from the personal networks of the creators of the project.” 

Campaigns must set 'reasonable' goals

As a result, the study found that successful theatre crowdfunding campaigns in Canada tend to be more modest in their target-setting than those that were unsuccessful, says Keyhani. “You have to take into account that this mechanism has so far not been able to fund multi-million-dollar theatre projects,” he says.

I would recommend a goal level of $5,000 or less would be reasonable. People know that Kickstarter has an all-or-nothing model where you have to achieve 100 per cent of your goal, or you get nothing.

If theatre entrepreneurs set their goals too high, potential patrons are “likely to perceive your project as less likely to succeed, and that will make them less likely to make pledges,” says Keyhani. “They have to see your goal amount and believe that it’s doable for them to be able to feel confident their pledge makes a difference.”

The study found more than $300,000 in total had been raised for 172 Canadian theatre projects on Kickstarter from its launch April 28, 2009 to Nov. 22, 2016, compared to more than $30 million for 7,808 projects during the same period in the U.S.

The lower amount in Canada likely reflects the country’s smaller population, says Keyhani, adding the study found most of the top successful projects in each province and subcategory had been positively reviewed in local media and newspapers, with some receiving national news coverage.

“It’s always been difficult to fund creative and artistic projects in Canada, including theatre,” he says. “Go to Kickstarter and see what projects are being launched in your community. You’ll often be able to find some really interesting ways you can support local creative artist-entrepreneurs, and make your community a better place.”