Backstage: Rorschach and Synetic thrilled with Kickstarter campaigns

When Rorschach Theatre decided to produce “Neverwhere,” adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel and filled with such stage directions as “THE GREAT BEAST OF LONDON enters. . . . It is a creature of impossible size, of hooves and tusks, steaming flanks and glowing red eyes,” they realized they were embarking on an ambitious adventure. Ambitious and expensive.

Rorschach put together a Kickstarter campaign that launched July 19, promising those who pledged $10 to $20 “your name in the program, all official looking,” and a walk -on role in the show for the over-$1,000 backers.

(Courtesy of Anonymous Content) - The winner of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2013 Will Award is Elizabeth McGovern.

(Courtesy Rorschach Theatre) - Poster art in promotion of the play “Neverwhere,” which will be produced by Rorschach Theatre with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.

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Rorschach typically does two fundraising campaigns a year, a traditional snail-mail one in December and one in the spring or summer “that’s more geared towards e-mail, Internet and Facebook,” said Randy Baker, the theater’s artistic director. “So in a sense, Kickstarter was an obvious choice, because it was an outgrowth of our Internet campaign that we’d done in the past. And this is a much cooler, much more fun way to do that.”

The Rorschach team set a goal similar to spring/summer goals in years past — $5,000 — and wound up being more successful in less time than ever. “We’re already fully funded with 13 days left to go,” Baker said.

Part of the appeal, Baker suspects, is that the campaign is ­project-focused. “I like to think that people support the institution, and some people do,” he said. “But a lot of people just look at projects themselves. And this is why subscriptions and things like that are not as popular as they once were. . . . I think the mind-set is more [to] rally your ­forces around each project.”

“Neverwhere,” he added, has “a lot of cult appeal, [and] Neil Gaiman is a really fun writer that has a huge, broad appeal among folks that are in social media.” Baker is certain Rorschach will use Kickstarter again, but he was quick to point out that “Kickstarter is a unique thing; you have to have the project for it. You can’t just say, ‘We need money!’ . . . There has to be a specific project that has a specific pitch that you can throw out there that is persuasive and exciting.”

Synetic Theater also turned to Kickstarter when it lost its rehearsal space in Arlington in March. Fortunately, said founding Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili, the company located a space about two blocks from the theater in Crystal City that is owned by the same corporation, Vornado, which owns the theater.

Synetic needed about $250,000 to renovate the space. It raised approximately half that amount “from friends, donors and some board members,” said Tsikurishvili. The company started the Kickstarter campaign after raising the first $125,000.

Synetic met the $25,000 Kickstarter fundraising goal with more than a week to spare.

“It’s great for the smaller-amount donations,” said Tsikurishvili, “because young people, even some teenagers, that want to support it [can spend] $10 or $20, and that really works well.” Tsikurishvili hopes the rehearsal space will be up and running by November.

Baker agreed with Tsikurishvili’s observations about Kickstarter, saying that Rorschach is reaching “a younger, hipper, more wired part of the population.”

Of the 108 backers for Rorschach’s campaign, nearly half donated $50 to $100. “I just think that micro-philanthropy is the wave of the future,” Baker said, “because all of the people who are giving are giving a small amount, but there’s so many of them. And it’s not only that they’re giving money, but that they all start to become part of the same community. They all have an investment in the project and in the company.”

“Money aside, our community has grown,” he said. “And we’ve become bigger and more exciting because of it.”

‘Downton’ star honored

The winner of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2013 Will Award is Elizabeth McGovern. The Academy Award-nominated actress (for “Ragtime”) plays Cora, Countess of Grantham, on “Downton Abbey.”

Is it necessary for me to disclose that I totally met Dan Stevens, a.k.a. dearly departed Matthew Crawley, one time? I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about my role as an objective reporter here. You may have heard about the sale of this particular paper of record, but that doesn’t mean our journalistic ethics are just going whoosh out the window. So to reiterate, just because I care so much about Eugene Meyer’s seven principles: Dan Stevens and I are close, personal friends, but this bond we share in no way influences my coverage of the fact that McGovern is the winner of this year’s Will Award.

Speaking of close, personal friends, “I’ve known Elizabeth for a very long time, since she was a student at Julliard,” said Michael Kahn, artistic director at STC. “So I’ve followed her career quite closely.”

While McGovern was at the Julliard School, she got “a big opportunity” to leave and do a film (according to Kahn, the film was “Ordinary People,” McGovern’s breakout cinematic role). “We had a talk, and she asked, ‘Could I come back?’ and I said, ‘Yes, [but] you’d have to take the first year over again,” said Kahn. McGovern did return to Julliard, he said, though “sometimes people don’t.”

“She was quite serious about being a good actress, about doing not only modern roles but classical roles,” Kahn said. “And I admire her for that.”

McGovern has never performed at the Shakespeare Theatre, but Kahn said that whether an actor has worked with STC is not a factor when it comes to the Will Award.

“I thought, it’s a nice thing to celebrate not only her successful career as an actress but the fact that she had classical roots to start with,” he said. “And to encourage her to go back to that when ‘Downton’ is over.”

I see what you did there, Kahn.

“Most of the time,” after an awardee who has never performed at STC gets the honor, “they say, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be wonderful to work here?’ And then I very often invite them,” he said.

There you have it. The Will Award sometimes operates as a prestigious and elaborate invitation to work at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Which is great! Who else from “Downton Abbey” do you know, Michael Kahn? How about the hot Turkish guy, Pamuk? Let’s get Pamuk! Better yet: What are the odds of Maggie Smith making an appearance in the District?

“Maggie doesn’t even want to do a play anymore,” said Kahn, who is on a first-name basis with Smith, just like I am probably on a first-name basis with Dan Stevens. “She said to me, ‘Michael, I’ve done them all. There’s none that I want to do anymore.’  ”

That’s disappointing to hear — but I won’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.

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