Hamilton, Arts Subsidies, and Community Outreach
Posted by: Singapore/Fling 03:59 pm EDT 03/19/17
In reply to: I don't think using HAMILTON in the article was a good idea - Teacher64 01:55 pm EDT 03/19/17

You make this argument often, but you always leave out the fact that "Hamilton" has dedicated its Wednesday matinees to public school audiences, through a partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation. That is only one of the many ways that this production has sought out opportunities for community engagement, in order to balance the relative lack of affordable tickets.

More importantly, "Hamilton" received subsidies during its gestation period, those seven long years when it was no more than a wild idea. Yes, it has now become the Hit of the Century, but it's easy to forget what a risk it was. A hip-hop history lesson starring a mostly minority cast is not a fool-proof commodity, particularly when we consider how hard it has been for hip-hop to break through into the theatrical format. Yes, it has become a big commercial hit, but only because a non-profit took a risk on it, as they take on myriad projects that you never even hear about, because they die somewhere in development.

If it had not had the support of the Public, "Hamilton" may never have reached fruition. The Public didn't simply give "Hamilton' space, they were actively involved in its creation. Oskar Eustis and his team provided dramaturgical support. They were involved with choosing the cast. They were involved with realizing the piece in three dimensions on a stage. All of this must be funded from somewhere, and one source is the NEA.

"Hamilton" may be making a ton of money now, but it wasn't making any money during the seven years that it took to write. It wasn't making any money during the years of readings and workshops and labs. It wasn't making any money during the Off-Broadway run, when ticket sales make less than the cost of production. It wasn't making any money until it opened at the Richard Rodgers and was a big hit. How should it have gotten there? What commercial producer would have taken the risk?

Yes, it's a big hit now. And who benefits? The Public certainly does, because they get a revenue stream from the show's success. Where does that money go? Well, it goes to the Mobile Shakespeare Lab, which brings free Shakespeare featuring minority actors to low-income, non-white neighborhoods. It goes to Shakespeare in the Park, which provides free tickets to Shakespeare to the whole city, including giving out tickets in low-income, non-white neighborhoods. It goes to play development, it goes to educational initiatives, it goes to supporting audiences and artists alike. I would think that we could appreciate that, in this case, that was a very good return of investment on the money spent on "Hamilton".

"Hamilton" is everything that the NEA should be supporting. It provides an education on American history, it promotes American values, it involves a diverse array of Americans, it celebrates uniquely American art forms (musical theater and hip-hop), and it brings a new audience into the theater. While most people still can't afford tickets, they can listen to the album, they can sing the songs with their friends, they can see it on tour, and they can one day perform it in their high schools or see it at their local community theaters.

Yes, the ticket prices for "Hamilton" are out of control, but what do you imagine will happen if arts subsidies are cut? How much more do you imagine tickets will cost, if the full price of development is factored into a show's commercial costs? What material would be developed by producers who were operating solely on a commercial model? How many of the past ten years Tony-winning Best Musicals would have ever been funded by a commercial entity? What risks would be taken if it weren't for non-profit spaces like Ars Nova or The Pubic or NYTW, which have a little more room to push the form because they are receiving subsidies?

And what do you propose in its place?

You're very clear about your opposition to this funding stream, but like a Trump voter who is opposed to Obamacare only to realize that they're going to lose their insurance, you don't seem to consider how much worse our arts landscape might be without the NEA.

Previous: re: I don't think using HAMILTON in the article was a good idea - MikeR 11:58 am EDT 03/20/17
Next: re: Hamilton, Arts Subsidies, and Community Outreach - Billhaven 04:10 pm EDT 03/19/17

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