If you’re not yet familiar with it, Patreon is a popular website that allows fans to pledge monthly subscriptions to creators they love. In return, fans may receive exclusive rewards, and the knowledge that they’re helping their favorite artists or personalities thrive. The site has been used to great effect by YouTubers, podcasters, musicians, Twitch streamers, writers, and graphic artists, to name a few: more than 5 million patrons use the site each month and have contributed over one billion dollars to their favorite creators to date. For some, Patreon is a source for some extra pocket change. For others, it’s a primary source of income.
Enter the theatre company.
Writing this article in the era of COVID-19 shines a particularly bright light on why relying on ticket sales for income can be unreliable. Of course, ticket sales were not always reliable before, either, and professional theaters and performing arts groups combatted have this with various other initiatives meant to stabilize their income– season subscriptions, recurring fundraisers, etc. However, as always, one size can’t really fit all. Smaller theatre companies especially may struggle to come up with meaningful, interesting ways to support their budgets.
Now more than ever, pursuing diverse income is simply a necessity. Patreon can help make that a reality.
Why Every Theatre Company Should Have a Patreon
1. Stay Connected With Your Audience
The phrase I’ve heard repeated the most in my time building a modest online brand is “be everywhere.” This essentially refers to the need to continually engage with your audience. Don’t just be a once-in-a-while footnote– make yourself a valuable, relevant part of audiences’ lives. Patreon is a step in this direction.
Whereas most social media allows you to connect with fans in a broad, general sense, Patreon grants the ability to connect with fans in a more meaningful way. Via your patron feed (more on this below), you can share exclusive content with patrons and engage in one-on-one or otherwise controlled dialogue impossible on a larger, more public scale.
Your patrons will appreciate the sense of importance your attention via Patreon grants!
2. Increased Audience Engagement Means Increased Audience Buy-In
The more meaningfully you engage with your audience, the dearer they will hold your organization. No one has strong feelings for a faceless company! This is the benefit small businesses have over big corporations.
Engaging with your audience and offering an inside look at the workings of the theatrical process will create a more receptive audience. Premium content can be used to show off your group’s unique personality in a way many theatrical organizations don’t get the chance to achieve. Creating this sort of transparency and active dialogue with your audience will encourage brand loyalty and repeat customers!
3. Monetize More of Your Theatrical Process
Ordinarily, the only part of the theatrical production process which can be monetized is the performance. With Patreon, you can earn money for all of the “in-between.”
You can use your patron feed to share and monetize things like behind-the-scenes interviews or informal check-ins with your administration, performers, or other creatives. You can post progress previews of upcoming works, or even tutorials on the creative process inside your scene or costume shops. This way, you can make money off the entire production process, while spotlighting those who don’t dominate the stage in performance!
4. Provide Audiences With Flexible Ways to Support You
Not every person who enjoys and wants to support your organization has the monetary means to purchase a ticket to every show. With Patreon, you can offer more flexibility for support.
You can set the minimum monthly contribution tier (more below) as low as $1– something nearly everyone can afford! Alternatively, those with the means can show their support by contributing more. There’s no limit on the maximum monthly donation amount– some Patreon creators offer $50, $100, or $200 per month tiers with success. This easily beats the ticket price for many small community theatre groups. For most theatre companies, this type of monthly support from one patron is staggering.
5. It’s Easy!
Basically, why not? Patreon is a simple way to earn some extra money for your organization. Once you set up your page, it can run entirely on its own with no further engagement from you. Of course, posting premium content to the patron feed or offering patron rewards can require some active pursuit, but setting up a Patreon page can be as simple as offering a few tiers in return for nothing but your appreciation and thanks.
How to Set up a Patreon Page
Creating a Patreon page is basically as simple as going to patreon.com and signing up for an account. Once your account is created, you can designate yourself a creator and begin setting up your page. Overall, the process is rather self-explanatory, as the site walks you through each step and offers helpful hints and tips along the way.
Contribution Tiers and Patron Rewards
Perhaps the most creatively-inclined part of the Patreon process is setting up your contribution tiers. Tiers are the various levels of monthly amounts patrons can choose to contribute to your organization. Tiers can start as low as $1 (though Patreon creators recommend your starting tier be at least $2 due to processing fees), and can go as high as you’d like. Patreon’s default tier kit consists of $5, $10, and $15 tiers, and this can be a good place to start.
Each tier can come with special patron rewards.
Generally, patron rewards fall into three general categories: Access to exclusive content/early access, access to patron-only areas or communities, and merch and “freebies”. While rewards aren’t mandatory, they significantly increase your chances of gaining patrons.
So what can community theaters offer patrons? Here’s a few ideas:
- Access to behind-the-scenes videos or photos of productions in progress
- A patron-exclusive monthly newsletter
- Exclusive interviews with performers, creatives, or theater administration regarding upcoming performances or events
- An exclusive patrons-only Facebook group, where patrons can vote in special polls and give other feedback on theater activities
- Access to special patron-only masterclasses or events
- Free show shirts or other theatre merchandise
- Free or discounted tickets, or special reserved seats
- Patron’s name in the program or on some other “wall of fame”
Of course, not all of these are appropriate for every theater. With a little ingenuity, you can come up with an array of rewards that suit you and your patrons best. If you’re uncertain, it’s best to start with only a few small rewards and add more later than to try to remove rewards once you’ve already got a few patrons expecting them.
The Patron Feed
As far as communicating and sharing exclusive rewards and content with your patrons goes, the patron feed will be your best friend. This is sort of like an exclusive blog or social media page that only patrons can see. If you want to post exclusive content or links to exclusive patron communities, you can post it to the patron feed, and all of your patrons will be notified.
You can also limit posts on the patron feed to specific groups of viewers. So, for example, say you offer a monthly newsletter for all $5 patrons and behind-the-scenes videos for $10 patrons. You can easily do this within the patron feed. Patreon makes it easy to ensure your posts are only visible to the correct people!
Is it Worth It?
You might be thinking I’m not so sure about this, this seems like a lot of work. Let me reassure you:
- Making a Patreon is quick and simple.
- You don’t need to put a lot of work into rewards or patron posts if you don’t want to!
- Once your page is active, it’s easy to share with fans and audience members and lasts forever with minimal maintenance. You can basically set it up and forget about it if you so desire!
- Investing even a minimal amount of work into rewards and other Patreon content has been shown to improve monthly earnings.
- Providing more flexible ways to support your organization will encourage audiences to support you!
So in conclusion: yes, a Patreon page is entirely worthwhile for theater organizations of every size. Whether you’re looking for a way to support your company during low-income months, or simply looking to diversify your earnings, Patreon could be the perfect place to start.