The cliche is that artistic-types don’t know how to handle money. This kind of sentiment is what provoked Rik Deskin to turn to Facebook recently to post a manifesto he wrote about running 10th Ave’s Odd Duck Studio.
If you want to be inspired about keeping your small venture afloat — and playing a little bit of business hardball — talk to Deskin.
“I wanted to make it completely transparent what’s going on, and why it’s going on, and what we’re trying to do to fix it,” said Deskin.
Odd Duck Studio on 10th Ave is the home of the Eclectic Theater Company, Alleged Tattoo, and as of this month, the House of Cards Theatre Company. Deskin is the artistic director of ETC and the de facto manager of Odd Duck, as he has been since 2006 when it took over the space at 10th and Union. It’s a space arts tenants have called home for year when Eclectic Theater Company was managed afar by founder DJ Hamilton with actor Shawn Law and tattoo artist Serena Landers renting the two front studios of the three studio space.
It was intended from the start to be a split venture. When ETC made a bid with two other companies for the assets (e.g. lighting and sound equipment) they intended to share the costs with those other two companies. Unfortunately, right after succeeding with bid those two other companies decided they couldn’t be partners. It was a setback, but still ETC went forward with the lease. “Basically we followed through on our commitments and started producing and presenting things,” said Deskin.
Trying to fundraise has been an issue right from the beginning. They took on Alleged Tattoo, which covers $500 of the needed $1700/month in rent and utilities. Also there are recurring and reliable monthly shows that generate funds. These shows are rentals. Last summer a big rental that would have lasted for months canceled on Deskin. There was little time to find a replacement, and that led to asking the community to lend a monetary hand. This summer the same thing has happened, only worse.
One rule Odd Duck is sticking to: Prospective renters can’t cancel within 30 days of renting the studio. Deskin hasn’t always been 100% by the book on this, he said. That somewhat lenient attitude on Deskin’s part has now been beaten out of him by financial reality.
“I’ve unfortunately been dealing with some people that aren’t as dedicated to following through on their projects as I am at providing the venue and making things happen from my side,” said Deskin.
Going forward, to rent the studio will require a deposit up front, and a signed contract between the show’s producers and Odd Duck. These contracts aren’t new, but the stringent implementation of said contracts is now more necessary than ever. Since May, Odd Duck’s policy has been to split profits with the producers who rent the space at a rate of $125 for a four hour slot. The first $125 earned goes to OD, the second $125 to the show’s producers, and then the rest is split 50/50. This keeps things simple, and Deskin hopes, profitable.
Fundraising is the reality in the theater world. In May, ETC was set to receive $5,000 that Deskin had to turn down because the company lost its status as a non-profit in April in the wake of IRS policy changes following passage of a 2006 law intended to help the IRS keep track of small non-profits. A new requirement went into effect that put ETC and small non-profits out in the cold if they failed to file the 990-N or “e-postcard” reporting status information. Odd Duck, like thousands of others, never filed — for years. The result was loss of status and the prospect of starting over again with the IRS.
It was a tough lesson and the blow required some quick fundraising ideas. Coupled with the unexpected loss of a three month rental, the change left Odd Duck scrambling.
Last week, an online campaign ended, garnering $685 out of a $5,050 goal for ETC. Money is money, but more is needed. To that end, ETC just started a fiscal sponsorship with Shunpike, a company that provides fundraising guidance and planning as well as back office support. The hope is that it will take some of the weight off of Deskin’s shoulders so that he can concentrate on being an artist at least as much as being the boss. “We’re basically in the process of rebuilding the company from scratch,” he said.
When it is great, going to the theater can be magical. That doesn’t mean that the place itself is magical, or above petty financial needs. With Odd Duck, they are simply leasing the space and trying to keep the doors open. That means raising $1,700/month. That means no paid staff, and producers doing their part to sell tickets. The profit margins are small, but doable. On the to-do list for Deskin is to install a digital projector and environmental controls to open things up for showing films and keeping people comfortable during the shows.
Odd Duck Studio will be a venue for the upcoming return of the Fringe Festival to Capitol Hill in September,
and September Skies by Jim Moran will open September 1st. There are tickets available for this Thursday’s The Comedy Workshop, an open mic comedy and improv workshop, through Brown Paper Tickets.
Volunteering time, donating through the new button on ETC’s website, and spreading awareness are all ways to help. The best way, of course, is to buy tickets. People going to shows, supporting neighborhood theater — that’s how places like Odd Duck Studio stay open. That, and the people who create the art learning some tough lessons along the way.