Mommy… where do independent operas come from?

Over there on the right side of the blog you’ll see a “tag cloud”. For those of my readers who are not familiar with the blogging world, a tag is a keyword that I associate with each post. Each post can have any number of keywords. And that tag cloud lists all the keywords used throughout the blog, with the size of the font proportionate to the number of posts that have that keyword. And with this post, I’m making the ‘self-doubt’ take a point or two larger.

When I first had the idea to write an produce a solo opera, I figured I’d front most of the money, have faith in my own abilities and talents, and end up making it back during the run. A few back of the envelope calculations (and Jessica Robinson’s fantastic “Boot Camp For Artists” course at Counterpulse) made me quickly realize that the costs of producing even a small solo opera are a considerable chunk of change. Little things like renting a space, building some sort of set, and hiring a high quality publicist, producer, and a director all add up to the “non” in “non-profit”.

Then spend a bit of time figuring out how much money you actually stand to make in ticket sales, even if every single one of your friends and family paid full price to see you, and you realize that breaking even in a creative endeavor is possible, but not likely.

So how do any independent productions get made? What fills the gap between ticket sales and production costs?

Mostly generosity. Primarily in the form of grants from foundations and donations from people who believe in what you’re trying to do (maybe even people reading this blog?) But in order to be eligible for most of these grants and in order for any donations to be tax deductible for your donors, you need to be a registered 501c.3 not for profit company, which is neither easy, nor cheap.

And that’s where “fiscal sponsorship” comes in. A larger non-profit arts organization takes a group of smaller companies under their wing and acts as an umbrella organization. Now when the sponsored company applies for grants or receives donations, they inherit the non-profit status of their sponsor organization.

If I was going to be able to raise any money at all, the first order of business was to apply for sponsorship. And my first choice was Intersection for the Arts Incubator program. They came with sterling recommendations from my friends at Cutting Ball who had them as their sponsors when they were starting out, they do amazing productions with a great array of artists, and they offer a number of services and workshops to create a real community. And looking at the web sites of other sponsored companies, I believed that the quality of my work was certainly on par. Take a few minutes to look for yourself, I mean, heck I’m not saying I’m another Campo Santo, and Charming Hostess has been putting on great shows since the early 90s when I would see them share the bill with Idiot Flesh at the Starry Plough. But if you look at the full gamut of the folks they’re sponsoring, I thought I compared pretty well.

So I was very surprised to get a notice from them the other day expressing their regrets. They weren’t going to offer me sponsorship. This was an outright shock. I had fully expected to get rejected for a bunch of grants, but SPONSORSHIP? I wasn’t asking them for money, I was asking to PAY them 10% of all the money I would raise! And I wasn’t even offered that privilege.

It’s not the end of the world. There are other opportunities for sponsorship. I will get sponsored and I will get funding and I will get this production up, there is no doubt of that. (That’s not just positive thinking. Anyone who knows me at all knows I do what I say I’m going to do. End of story.) But it does push back my entire fund raising calendar. And it sure doesn’t make my life any easier.

Please don’t take this as a complaint about Intersection. They’re forced to make hard decisions with limited resources, like the rest of the arts world. And PLEASE don’t take this as a plea for external validation. I don’t mean to sound unappreciative, but I WILL DELETE ANY COMMENTS SAYING ANYTHING LIKE “KEEP AT IT BRIAN” or “I BELIEVE IN YOU!”. Seriously. I will. That’s NOT what this blog is for. I’m posting this because part of the idea behind this blog is to share a glimpse of the struggle.

So there ya have it. We have our ups, we have our downs. This was a week of both. The workshop went well, the string quartet recording sounds great, and I didn’t get fiscal sponsorship.

We’ll see how next week goes. Hopefully the font on the “self-doubt” tag will stay the exact same size.