Arts Administration

Seattle Theatre Tries Radical Experiment: Every Single Ticket is Free



Intiman Theatre is embarking on a radical experiment — so radical, it’s got “radical” in the name.

The phrase “radical hospitality” has been pinging around the theater world since 2011, when Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis started giving away all its tickets, to every show, for free. Now Intiman, the 47-year-old Seattle theater that has gone through dramatic changes over the decades(Tony Award in 2006, very near-death experience in 2011, reinvention in 2012, retiring all its debt in January), is giving radical hospitality a try.

The initiative, artistic director Jen Zeyl explained, is about more than the standard theater problem of getting “butts in seats.” (Though, of course, there’s that.) It’s about getting the butts one wants in seats — not just the people who can afford to take the $25+ crap shoot known as a theater ticket, but the people who can’t: the woman at the corner store, high-school sophomore, the guy asking for spare change on the sidewalk.

All the tickets to its next play (“The Events,” David Greig’s study of a mass shooting and its aftermath, written for two actors and a series of community choirs) are free — and if you want one, you’d better get on it. Eight days before the first preview on July 18, Intiman reported that 70% of the tickets for the entire run (minus the handful they’re holding for walk-ups at each performance) have been reserved.

That’s huge.

Compare “The Events” with “Caught,” Intiman’s March play: Intiman says that at the same benchmark, five days before previews, a mere 8% of its tickets had been sold. By the end of the run, it had only filled 41.75% of the total house capacity. By the end of its prior play, “Native Gardens,” sales reached 67.47% of capacity.

Why dive into radical hospitality?

“This just comes from me understanding access to art as a human right,” Zeyl said. “I feel the same way about health care, insurance, anything fulfilling basic human needs that has been privatized to make a dollar. Think about theater inside the Russian doll of art, inside the Russian doll of nonprofits, surrounded by capitalism and wrapped in white supremacy. I mean, can we make it any less accessible?”

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