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Maureen Torsney-Weir and Nathan Holt in "Skin & Bone" by Jacqueline Goldfinger at Azuka Theatre. (Photo by Photo by Johanna Austin)

Azuka Theatre’s 2016-17 Season Will Be Pay-What-You-Decide

The Philadelphia theatre’s first pay-what-you-decide season features premieres from Douglas Williams and Jacqueline Goldfinger.

PHILADELPHIA: Azuka Theatre has launched a pay-what-you-decide program for its entire 2016-17 season. Under the new initiative, audiences can reserve tickets for productions in advance, see the play, and only then pay what they’re able to after. Azuka’s 2016-17 season will include world premieres by Douglas Williams and Jacqueline Goldfinger, as well as an area premiere by Idris Goodwin.

“Azuka’s goal is to open our doors to all members of our community and engage the next generation of theatre lovers,” said Azuka’s cofounder and marketing director Mark H. Andrews in a statement. “With the pay-what-you-decide model, we can eliminate the financial barriers of attending theater. Patrons will decide the value of their experience at our shows. The price is up to them—and they won’t pay a dime until after the show. Philadelphia has a thriving, expansive, and fast-growing theatre scene that makes it the perfect spot to make theatre history.”

While other theatres offer pay-what-you-can or pay-what-you-will performances, and a brave few do it for all their shows, most collect the money up front; Azuka’s post-show contribution model appears to be an innovation. Their pay-what-you-decide program is funded by a $55,000 grant from the Barra Foundation. Azuka says they will test out the program for two seasons, and if 2016-17 is successful, they plan to use funds raised from the productions to continue the program. Because there are no set ticket prices, Azuka will also discontinue season subscriptions for 2016-17.

“The most obvious risk faced with this program would be not making the budgeted ticket sales goal,” said Azuka producing artistic director Kevin Glaccum in a statement. “We are confident in the work we produce and the continued support of the audiences already established. If pay-what-you-decide ticketing goes well, we could be empowered to take even more artistic risks on new work as financial risks are removed, and larger audiences would allow for the production of shows currently outside the scope and scale of the company’s budget.”

While Azuka modeled its program after the ARC Stockton Arts Centre in England, it’s not the only American company to use pay-what-you-can as a way to eliminate price barriers for audiences. While many theatres (including the local Theatre Horizon) don’t have set ticket prices for particular performances, only a small handful of institutions employ the practice throughout the entire season. Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis offers no-cost admission all season, while Flux Theatre Ensemble in New York City has pay-what-you-like admission to every production.

Azuka’s three-play season will open with Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On (Sept. 21-Oct. 9). Raelle Myrick-Hodges will direct the play with music about three suburban teens coming of age in the 1980s who discover a passion for hip-hop.

Following that will be the world premiere of Sh_theads by Douglas Williams (Feb. 22-March 12, 2017). The play is about the manager of a down-and-out bike shop in lower Manhattan who concocts a scheme to save the store. Artistic director Glaccum will direct.

Closing the season will be the world premiere of The Arsonists by Jacqueline Goldfinger (May 3-21, 2017). Set in a Florida swamp and inspired by the Greek tragedy Electra, the play closes out Goldfinger’s Southern Gothic trilogy, and is set in a Florida swamp. Azuak also staged the previous plays in the trilogy, the terrible girls and Skin & Bone. Azuka’s associate artistic director, Allison Heishman, will direct.

“This season continues our tradition of telling the stories of outcasts and underdogs, as well as exposing our audiences to new work and new voices,” said Heishman in a statement.

Azuka was founded in 1999 and produces accessible, thought-provoking, and socially conscious theatre. It has produced 37 productions and 16 world premieres.

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