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January 23, 2008

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Simon

Thank you Adam, this is a great idea. My name is Simon Ogden, and I'm a playwright and producer for Lyric Stage Project in Vancouver, an independent theatre company that's a couple of years old. We throw a fundraising party (each one called "XperiencE") every four months or so, usually in concert with an upcoming production. We've branded the parties so as to keep anticipation and word-of-mouth up in the community, each XperiencE is consecutively numbered and we use the same artist (a buddy I used to bartend with) to paint a variant on the same image for each run of promotional material (it's the company mascot, a jester, revealing each new number into a spotlight. You can find examples on my blog).

The parties themselves are structured loosely on the same format, the first half of the night consists of a lounge bar providing drinks while performance art is presented around the venue. (We're affiliated with an acting school which lets us use the facility as long as we clean up, so the space is donated, an important consideration in keeping expenses down.) We get musicians to volunteer a couple hours of their time (easy to get, trust me) to play solo instruments at various spots throughout the space. At the last one in December we had a cellist, a sax player, and a pianist scattered throughout. The performance art is always different, sometimes it's simply actors from the company doing private moment exercises behind velvet ropes. It trips people out, and it's very Warholian. At one party we had a local artist sketching a nude model, another we had a stand-up comedian practicing in a closet. It's amazing what you can get artists to do in the name of art.

During the first section of the night we have one of the more effusive gals run our silent auction, every member of the company is responsible for acquiring at least one donated item towards it. It's amazing how much stuff we get donated: Caribbean cruises, salon appointments, restaurant GCs, workout gear, photo sessions, skateboards, original are...everyone we ask happily donates. The silent auction usually accounts for half of our profit.

The second half of the nights brings the disco portion, at 11 we open the room reserved for dancing where the big bar and DJ is set up and it just turns into a big ol' party. At that time we'll open a food concession, paninis or pizzas or whatever, essential when, you know, the serious partying starts.

This is all handled with the utmost care to the concerns of a large party, we use only professional bartenders (which means me, by way of full disclosure, but how many bartenders work in theatre, seriously), keep sober barbacks and cleaners till the end of the night, and we always hire security to keep an eye on things. It is an open party, after all, not just friends. Pro security will run you about $200 for the night, an expense well worth it, in my opinion.

The only other substantial expense is the booze bill, which runs us about $2000 on someone's credit card before the party. There is a set price that the government imposes on the drinks we sell that is incumbent in the private party license we're compelled to buy here (you could take a chance I suppose, government inspectors have never shown up, but we're nerdy enough to play by the book), the set prices are around $3-$4, but even at that low a price the booze pays for itself pretty quickly and we always turn a tidy profit. Any unopened product is returned to the liquor store for a refund, so that original cash outlay isn't really all that risky.

The other money grabs at each party, the food bar and entry fee, is always by donation. The reason for this is twofold, it sounds much more polite and humble to leave the amount up to the discretion of the guests than charging a fixed amount, and you always make more money this way. Ask for five bucks you get five bucks, ask for a donation and sure, sometimes you get a handful of change, but mostly you get a ten or a twenty. It plays off the cache of contributing to the local art scene, which everyone is eager to do. (That's an angle we need to take more advantage of.) We always get someone tossing in a hundred. Those people get a lot of free drinks. A key to this is to have a salesman working the door taking donations, they can give people a quick overview of what to expect and throw out stuff like "oh, it's by donation, whatever you want, but hey, if you throw in a twenty I'll slide you a couple of these here drink tickets...".

We've themed them too, our first one was '40's Hollywood, and everyone looked wickedly elegant in fedoras, fake mustaches and fake fur. Has any era been as sexy?

Six hours, door-to-door, it's exhausting but hella-fun, and builds a buzz about the company in its own right. I constantly run into people who hit me with "hey, you're the guy from that party! Dude, that was awesome, when's the next one?"

Well, it's sometime in the spring, stayed tuned to thenextstage.wordpress.com for more info. If you're in Vancouver stop by for a couple of drinks, I hear the bartender is pretty good.

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