I was alarmed by how many people were saying how big my balls were. I heard it several times a day.
I opened my big fat mouth and I stepped into a shit storm of retaliation. I openly and vocally shared my disdain for the lack of imaginative ingenuity present within the Canadian Theatre Industry. This is something, I have learned, that one simply does not do if one wants to carry on living a simple and quiet life. Fortunately for me, I do not.
Opening my big fat mouth led to J. Kelly Nestruck challenging me in his article entitled: “Stood There, Applauded That.”
If McMullen really wants to be sure his audiences aren’t lying, he could always offer a money-back guarantee.
So, of course, we did on our current project, Proof by David Auburn.
The cast of Proof thought I had gone off the deep end, but fortunately they followed suit. They were inspired by the challenge and rose to face it head on. Now, these are some of the bravest artists I have ever met. It is one thing to put your money on the talent of others. It is certainly another thing to put your money on the talent of yourself… Thank god they were all incredibly gifted actors led by an a visionary director, Raugi Yu.
I do believe there is something to be learned from these very brave and talented individuals. They let me risk it all on their work. How many of us can say we’ve done that? They put it all out there, trusted their talent and simply let go. They fell into the abyss and they landed on their feet.
I figured at this point that I had ruffled enough feathers and stuck my head far enough up my own ass that I might as well lay low, let the production unfold and quietly carry through with what I had promised (offering refunds to audience members at intermission should they dislike the production). So, of course I did the opposite.
I wrote e-mails and press releases. I called everyone I could to let them know that we were doing something very stupid, but interesting and perhaps they should pay attention. And The Globe and Mail paid attention. They wrote a very nice featurette on our stupid, but interesting new policy that was read from coast to coast.
I was alarmed by how many people were saying how big my balls were. I heard it several times a day. I would tell someone about our new money-back guarantee and the response was almost always the same: “Man, you’ve got some big balls.”
I never understood this reaction. I mean, yes, it is brave to offer money back on art. Some might say it’s downright stupid. I, on the other hand, feel like it’s just an appropriate response to a dwindling audience. You see, I believed (and still believe) that if I could take away the risk of seeing theatre, then I might open the door to nurturing a new audience. There is nothing for that new audience member to lose, including their money.
It’s really just about accountability. And good business practice. We want our audience to leave satisfied 100% of the time whether they liked the production or not. When they’re satisfied then they’re more likely to return.
… And the result? A decent turn out with a growing audience count into our second week of performances. And how many tickets did we have to refund? Zero. (Not counting the two I had to refund because they were late-comers and weren’t admitted… but those don’t really count, do they?)
However, the most interesting and unexpected result of our loud and proud money-back guarantee policy is that as of their upcoming season, The Arts Club will offer a money-back guarantee on their season subscription! So, should you dislike the first production of their season, you can get your money back. How effing cool is that? Well done Arts Club!
So, to end this very interesting saga surrounding the money-back guarantee, I want to say something to you, my friend, my peer and confident: Be loud, do stupid things, stick to your guns. Do these things and always follow through. See what needs to be changed about our industry and CHANGE IT! Do not wait for someone stronger to do it. That person does not exist. You do. And you and your ideas are more than enough to create a smarter, stronger and more self-reliant Canadian Theatre Industry.
Thank you for following along in this bizarre story. This is the end of this chapter. Please follow along in the next, which has already begun. The next chapter at Mnemonic Theatre Productions is called, Romeo and Juliet: A Lesbian Love Story.