Patrons can subscribe to one mini-season, or subscribe to every single show, or put together a “pick your own” season made of any three plays of their choosing. It’s like Chop’t, with smarter punctuation.
Last year, Olney’s season included six productions; this year’s season had eight. The increase to nine for 2014 came from a desire to have “each patron who was a member here be here three times a year,” Loewith said. “You don’t want people to go too long without coming to the space if you want it to be their cultural home.”
So far, so good? “We’re already ahead of where we were last year for subscriptions, and we haven’t even sent out a mailing,” he said. “And in part that’s due to the fact that we’re making it easier for people to find the things that they like. Amazon does it. Netflix does it. Why doesn’t theater do it?”
The subscription model — whereby you sign up for every play in a theater’s season to obtain the benefits of membership, such as early access to tickets and special events — is an old one and, said Loewith, “I think we all recognize that the subscription model is failing. We’ve known this for 15 years.”
“The idea of trying to sell the same slate of plays to that wide an audience is mind-numbingly stupid, I think,” he said.
Olney funding, he said, “isn’t segregated,” so profits from, say, “The Little Mermaid” can be put toward next year’s Contemporary Series budget. “Everything we do pays for everything else.”
Don’t take it personally, theater people, but this isn’t really about you. “We’re also aiming at people who don’t go to the theater regularly, who aren’t culture vultures,” Loewith said. “We’re aiming at those people by saying: You only need to commit to three shows in a year.
“I feel like we’ve opened the door to a lot of people who otherwise would never” subscribe, he said.
Loewith has one major concern, and it extends beyond theater and into the way we all self-curate the culture (and news, music, and on and on) we consume: “What does it mean if the public square is shrinking because we have the ability to shrink it ourselves? That worries me, no doubt. Which is why I want to make sure that each of our series has variety and challenges people.”
But Loewith insisted that theater, which “is already a backwards-enough art form,” cannot afford to feign obliviousness of the shift in how people obtain information and experience art.
“We’d be a little bit ridiculous to not look at the fact that you can aggregate your news the way you want to, your TV content the way you want to, only ever watch what you’re interested in watching. Americans are consuming more culture now than they ever have, but they’re also choosing what culture to consume with greater and greater specificity, and we can’t ignore that.”