Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Luc Roderique, Rachel Aberle, Richard Newman and Brahm Taylor in Three Sisters.

Emily Cooper

A Vancouver restaurant, pre-theatre crowd. A mother and daughter, dining on Middle Eastern food, deep in discussion.

Daughter: "Mom, you should direct a production of Chekhov's Three Sisters. So who can we persuade in town to hire you to do that?"

Mother: "Nobody, because Vancouver isn't doing the classics any more. So forget it. I'm too old. I'm not self-producing any more. I've done too many co-ops and I can't ask these people who earn their living in the theatre to do this for nothing and put up their own money."

Story continues below advertisement

Daughter (reluctant, but still enthusiastic): "I'll produce it. And I know how we can raise the money so it doesn't have to be a co-op."

The conversation, about a year and a half ago, between Vancouver theatre veteran Jane Heyman, 69, and her daughter Jessie Johnston, 31, went something like that. It ended with Johnston – who works in magazine publishing and has never produced a play before – launching a campaign on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. With a goal of $7,000, the project ultimately raised $10,100 online, plus about $4,000 more from individuals (and a $1,500 corporate sponsorship). In all, more than 200 people kicked in – ranging from big names in theatre (Kim Collier, Norman Armour, Roy Surette, Kevin Loring) to distinguished non-theatre types (a B.C. Supreme Court judge, a former Vancouver city councillor) to individuals from as far away as Britain and Australia. The crowdfunding effort meant that the show could go on – and that the actors and other creators wouldn't have to put up their own money to do it.

"Without getting sentimental about it, we feel like we're surrounded by all these circles of people who are all saying we want this to happen. Do it," said Heyman during a break in rehearsals. "We're still taking a risk. There's no guarantee that it'll end up being the show we want it to be. But it's honest work."

While asking around your network to help finance a project (artistic or not) is hardly a new concept, the explosion of online platforms has been a game-changer, democratizing the creation of art, and beyond.

"It's very much a cultural shift," says Jonathan Sandlund, founder of TheCrowdCafe, which provides research and data on the crowdfunding industry. "Crowdfunding gives everybody everywhere through technology the opportunity to raise funding for what they're passionate about."

Kickstarter dominates, and its figures tell the story. Since it launched in April, 2009, Kickstarter (which remains unavailable to creators in Canada) has facilitated more than $500-million (U.S.) in pledges by more than three million people, funding more than 35,000 creative projects. For theatre alone, more than 4,300 projects have launched on the site, with over $14-million (U.S.) pledged.

It's an all-or-nothing proposition: If you don't reach your goal, you don't get any money.

Story continues below advertisement

On various crowdfunding sites, money has been raised to finance everything from funerals and alternative cancer treatment to music videos and equipment upgrades for aging independent cinemas. Musician Amanda Palmer raised almost $1.2-million for her record, art book and tour, with an original goal of $100,000; computer game Double Fine Adventure raised $3.3-million; a smartwatch called Pebble raised more than $10-million (all figures U.S.).

Crowdfunding's success has perhaps never been displayed as definitively (or with as much frenzied publicity) as with the cult TV series Veronica Mars. Creator Rob Thomas at first laughed off the idea of using Kickstarter to raise funds for a Veronica Mars feature film. But as of last week, he had raised more than $4-million (U.S.), from more than 60,000 backers.

"It opens the door to possibility; it validates that it can be done, if you just look at the speed of the funding and the scale of funding," says Sandlund, speaking from New York. He adds: "It's not just plain vanilla capital. They're pre-acquiring not just customers, but evangelists. So everyone who funded Veronica Mars is going to be a walking, talking billboard."

While Veronica Mars certainly has implications, Sandlund doesn't see it as a model that will be applied to film projects on a broad scale. Here, there were the right ingredients: a devoted following of the right demographic, a creator and star with major buy-in.

There are downsides to crowdfunding: the potential for disappointment, frequent product delays, creators being snowed under by their obligations to provide contributors with perks – writing, say, hundreds of postcards by fictional characters to thank them. Sandlund is more optimistic about investment-based crowdfunding, in particular for business, where a contributor may see a financial return on investment – rather than having Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell record your outgoing voicemail message (for a $500 pledge).

In Vancouver, Three Sisters contributors have received tickets, signed scripts and posters. Nobody is going to get rich. "Even if we sell out the entire show, no one's getting a big paycheque," says Johnston. "If we sell out, people get 1,000 bucks approximately." That's for four weeks of rehearsal plus a four-week run.

Story continues below advertisement

So who is willing to work for potentially nothing for two months? The list is impressive: respected actors such as Bob Frazer; sound designer Patrick Pennefather; costume designer Mara Gottler; lighting designer Itai Erdal; playwright Amiel Gladstone – who wrote a new adaptation of the Chekhov masterpiece while visiting Thailand. Between them, they have more than 110 Jessie Award nominations.

"No wonder we need a Performing Arts Lodge, because people of this calibre working on this show are doing it for nothing," says Heyman, who co-founded Vancouver's PAL. "We've got to change the dialogue about the arts and this city and this province and this country. And maybe this production is one teeny-weeny little step toward doing that. People have to stop talking about grants. It's not about grants. It's not about subsidy. It's about investment."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies