Newport, Ky. theater company raises curtain on crowdfunding for seating upgrades

NEWPORT, Ky. - The Falcon Theater in Newport is using crowdfunding as part of a broader capital campaign for facility improvements. Through "The Riser Raiser" campaign on Indiegogo.com, the Falcon hopes to raise $11,000 for more comfortable seats and modern risers.

"We're very much a people's theater," said Julie Niesen Gosdin, the Falcon Theater's marketing director. "So we made the amounts on the Indiegogo site accessible to anyone."

Gosdin said the experiment with crowdfunding is part of a larger trend among arts organizations. Instead of relying mostly on big gifts from small groups of donors, arts organizations are exploring ways to encourage gifts of all sizes from larger groups of donors.

"The Riser Raiser" crowdfunding campaign offers perks for contributions ranging from $10 to the full $11,000. 

  • People who donate $15 receive a Falcon Theater poster 
  • Donors of $50 get two tickets to a Falcon show
  • For a $150 gift, the contributor gets his or her own permanent chair
  • A $2,000 donor gets a walk-on part in a show

Pans and praise

Organizers hope the seating improvements will enhance the viewing experience of audiences who like the Falcon's intimate venue and eclectic mix of kooky musicals, classic dramas, and contemporary plays. 

According to Gosdin, the actors know new seats are sorely needed. When the lights come up, audience members stand, clutch their lower backs, and stretch. Reviewers have praised Falcon Theater performances and panned the uncomfortable seats. Some returning theater-goers bring seat cushions with them.

The Falcon Theater is tucked among the storefronts lining Monmouth Street, just a few blocks from Newport on the Levee. Residents of a certain age may recall when the brick building housed one of Newport's infamous "gentlemen's clubs." A vintage poster advertising "Girls! Girls! Girls!" still adorns the theater men's room.

Since moving into the space in 2004, The Falcon Theater crew has improved the stage, lighting, and dressing rooms.

"This is the first time we're tackling the audience environment," said Falcon Theater Artistic Director and Co-Founder Ted Weil. When the planned improvements are completed, he promised, "it will be a much better space to see a play."

Finding funds

Falcon Theater leaders are not putting all their eggs in the crowdfunding basket. They already have $6,500 in grant money and have applied for other grants. Theater-goers can give by topping up donation jars in the lobby.

Crowdfunding is attractive because it uses low-cost social media and word-of-mouth referrals rather than traditional (often annoying) methods such as telethons, telemarketing, or excessive direct mail. Crowdfunding campaigns can easily go global.

Givers can search crowdfunding platforms on their own, choosing which projects to support and how much to donate.

Organizations, businesses, and entrepreneurs are using crowdfunding for product development, creative projects, and social causes.

According to market research by Massolution.com:

  • Crowdfunding platforms raised $2.7 billion and funded more than 1 million campaigns in 2012
  • This was up 81% from the previous year
  • In 2013, global crowdfunding volumes are expected to reach $5.1 billion on more than 500 different crowdfunding platforms.

Going with Indiegogo

The Falcon Theater chose Indiegogo.com for its crowdfunding campaign because of its understanding of arts organizations, reasonable fees, and funding policies. The Indiegogo team was able to suggest campaign techniques that worked for small theaters in other regions.

A short, cheeky YouTube video on Indiegogo (view below) compares sitting in the current chairs to sitting in the back row of an airplane. The video also shows the more theater-appropriate seats and safety-lit risers The Falcon Theater wants to buy.

Donors have until May 20 to get behind the Falcon's crowdfunding effort. Gosdin said audiences will be the true beneficiaries of "The Riser Raiser" campaign.

The Falcon Theater plans to have the new seats installed when the 2013-14 season opens in October.  

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