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The Price of Art: Pay What You Can

(Posted March 12, 2014)

Neal Utterback, assistant professor of theatre Photo by Kelly Russo '14

This semester has seen the entrance of a new method of payment initiated by Juniata's theater department. This revolutionary model began in the theatres in New York City and it has been well recieved by the audiences at Juniata. Neal Utterback, assistant professor of theatre, talks about what he calls the "pay what you can" model.

Q; How does the "pay what you can" model work?

A; The "pay what you can" model is when a person can pay nothing or whatever they have with them; a nickel, a dime, quarters, or $1 million. It depends on what each person believes the work was worth. Theatre is expensive to produce, and people work very hard. Art is not free and it should not be free, but we do want to reach out the community and those who may not have had experience or exposure. We prefer those people come and enjoy themselves and have a great experience. We think what we do here is great, and we want to share with everyone, but we are not giving it away at same time.

Q: Where did this idea come from?

A: The idea started this semester at Juniata. There are a lot of companies in New York who have switched over to the "give what you can" model and it works really well. They'd rather somebody watch the play and enjoy, it even they cannot afford the market value of the tickets. We'd rather someone enthusiastically sit, watch and enjoy the gift that we are trying to give to them rather maximize our profits. Making theatre is expensive, but this way is not just making the marketing value of the ticket arbitrary. I think this allows the most opportunities for the most people is to come and enjoy theater.

Q: Has the revenue increased since you applied the "pay what you can" method?

A: The nice side effect is that the people see that the work has a great value and value means generously providing financial support. But we also see many people attending the productions and that was the point of the initiative; not to make more money.

Q: What are you going to do with the money that you receive from the tickets?

A: Right now the money goes back to the college principally. There is a certain amount that the college requires and anything over in ticket sales is a gift for us. Ideally, the money will come back to our operating budget. I think people don't realize how much it costs to put on productions. Part of our job is to make that work invisible . You do not want to see how the magician works; you just want to see the show. And that is what we are trying to do, but to give the magic represents a lot of work and money.

Q: Who can come to enjoy the shows?
All the shows are open to the public. This is part of how we are trying to change our show. Historically, I think the largest portion of audience members have been students, faculty, and family. I don't think that a lot of the Huntingdon community knows that we do this. This gives them the chance to try without a financial risk. I am convinced that the people will come to see the work we do, and they will be impressed and come back. I really want to strengthen the relationship with our community inside and outside from Juniata.

Katherine Tobar Manosalvos, Juniata Online Journalist

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.