Jack Reuler says it just makes sense.
After a long and heart-felt discussion about how to serve the mission of the theater company he formed 35 years ago, and had led ever since, the board of Mixed Blood Theater decided to stop charging admission for mainstage productions.
Reuler calls it 'radical hospitality.'
"Anyone can come to the theater and get in for free, it really is that simple," Reuler said this afternoon.
"The only transaction there is is contact information: we want to know who you are, we don't ask for anything beyond name address, email and phone number."
Admission will be on a first come, first served basis, although patrons can guarantee a seat with an on-line reservation at a cost of $15.
When quizzed as to how Mixed Blood will meet its bills, Reuler says in the past box office receipts have only made up 15-18 percent of the annual budget, and there is enough money in reserve to make it through the first year at least.
"The great thing is we just closed our 35th season, and it was the best one we have had in a decade," he said. "So when we had our greatest box office we are eliminating our box office, to really show this is who we want to be."
Reuler founded Mixed Blood after being inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King's message of egalitarianism. He says while the USA has changed in the years since, the Mixed Blood mission has not.
In discussions with leaders of various communities around the Twin Cities, Mixed Blood heard time and again that ticket prices were the biggest hurdle preventing people from attending. He says the board made the decision to drop admission fees first, and then began working on how to do it.
"It's really to create an open and inviting place that everyone can come to and call their home," he said. "It is new and unusual in our field, but it's just an expansion of what's been in our hearts and the way we have tried to reach out since the beginning."
There are only a few other theaters nationwide that have gone the free ticket route, and Reuler admits he doesn't expect many others will follow. He says it just works for them.
"We are trying to be the best 'Mixed Blood' we can be, and not lead a charge," he said. "It could be that in 50 years, it's the way everybody's doing it, or we could still be the only ones doing it."
However, he says the free-for-users model has worked in other arenas locally, pointing to the MIA, City Pages and even Minnesota Public Radio as examples.
Reuler announced the new policy at the same time as the 2011-2012 season. It includes "Neighbors," a scathing comedy exploring race relations in modern America. Reuler said he wanted to bring it to Minneapolis after he saw it done in Los Angeles.
"It really talks about black-and-whiteness in harsher ways than I have ever seen," he said. "When it was hilarious it was really hilarious, and when it was serious it was electric, the silence in the room."
It will be followed by "Center of Margins," a three-play festival exploring different aspects of living with a disability; "Crashing the Party," a world premiere starring Sally Wingert, and the season will round off with "Learn to be Latina," which follows the adventures of a Lebanese singer who is coached to try to adopt a Latina style after her record company decides it won't be able to successfully promote an Arab artist.
Reuler says the quality of the lineup shows they are serious about what they are doing.
"There is a misperception that if something costs nothing it has no value," he said. "And we contend quite the opposite. When you have high quality work for no cost, that actually optimizes value, and that's what we intend to do."
You can listen to my discussion with Jack Reuler about the season by clicking the link below:
Jack--- I applaud you for taking a risk and your leadership!