Dave Mortensen on crowdfunding a production of Little Happy Secrets

Dave Mortensen is hoping to raise funds for a production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s AML-award winning play “Little Happy Secrets” early next year in Salt Lake City. In order to do so, he is using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Intrigued by the notion, I asked him to answer a few questions about the project.

Why did you decide to raise funds for a staging of “Little Happy Secrets”?

I attended the 2009 production in Provo not quite sure how I would feel about the show. I had heard the premise, but really I attended because I knew the director and playwright. The script really impacted me. I felt immediately that this is one of the great pieces of Mormon drama and I knew I wanted to be involved in bringing it to a larger audience. Fast forward one year and I’m now based in Davis County shopping around for a script to produce in Salt Lake City and I remember “Little Happy Secrets.” It’s perfect: a script I believe in, a playwright I’d like to support, and a small enough cast that I think we can manage a quality production at a premiere SLC venue.

Funding then became the next big question. I produce part-time while working during the day in a completely different industry. As a recent graduate the majority of my income goes towards paying debts and saving for car repairs. It’s just not feasible for me to lay down $4,500 for 6 months and risk not being able to make that money back. Theatre is a pretty risky investment and while I’m more than happy to invest my time and resources, I just can’t live in my car in the mean time.

When I ran across Kickstarter I realized that here is a method for funding a project while rallying support from the grassroots level. If the public really wants to support this play, then I’ll produce it. If they don’t, well, then I’ll just have to postpone my goal of helping this playwright and this play.

How did “Little Happy Secrets” playwright Melissa Leilani Larson react to the idea?

I know that this play is very dear to Mel (as I’m sure all of her plays are). She was very pleased at the possibility of taking the show to S, but not so confident we could raise the $4,500 needed to do it. She’s had many opportunities to hear how “Little Happy Secrets” has touched the relatively small audiences that have seen it, and I’m sure it’s only strengthened her own belief in this extremely important piece of drama.

Tell me about the method you are using, which I find very interesting: has it been used for projects like this before? How did you come up with the level-of-giving incentives? And what are you doing to publicize it?

I follow a good number of blogs and one day I stumbled across this website called Kickstarter. The basic idea is that someone has a project/play/movie/invention/album that they want to do. They set a goal of the funding needed to accomplish that goal and the deadline for when the funding needs to be in place (up to 90 days). They then offer level-of-giving incentives for the backers to the project. Friends, family & strangers pledge money towards the project and if the funding goal is reached by the deadline then the funds are released to the project owner. If you don’t reach the goal, then no one’s credit cards are charged and no funds are dispersed.

What does that mean for us? Well, we’re trying to raise $4,500 for the production (to pay for the space, and other basic production costs). Our deadline is July 31. If we raise $4,499 dollars and miss our goal by $1 then the project doesn’t happen.

Sad, I know. But I love this idea! Share the excitement of producing a show with individuals who want to show their support! After all, why produce a show if no one’s going to come see it? Theatre is about sharing and I thought this would be a great way to begin to connect with our local (and not-so-local) audience and introduce the script. It kind of requires an introduction.

Now, publicizing this campaign…that’s proving a challenge. So far the pledges we’ve received have been directly from word-of-mouth, and we’re thrilled that it has done so well. We’re contacting a few organizations we feel might be interested in the project and working on a few videos to help spread the word.

If you think about it, $4,500 isn’t very much money to stage a play, especially with theater rental costs. And yet that’s a pretty big number in relation to giving/fundraising in the world of Mormon culture. What are some of the challenges you face with this effort? What can AMV readers who aren’t local do to help the effort?

Get the word out. $4,500 is a very attainable number. Only 450 people need to donate $10 and the show happens. That’s the trick, though: spreading the word to 450 people willing to pledge that ten bucks to a good script and a good producer. I was talking with a NYC producer last year and he said something interesting, “Good theatre doesn’t make it to Broadway. Financed theatre makes it to Broadway.” This is an opportunity for our supporters to help produce good theatre. Our project is the first in what I hope becomes a long string of smaller productions being brought to a larger stage by the supporting public. So please, pledge any nickels and dimes you might have and then help spread the word!

Thanks Dave!

To donate to the “Little Happy Secrets” staging, visit the Kickstarter project page. There are some really cool incentives for pledges at various levels, including tickets to the play (which, if you aren’t local, you could donate to friends or family in Utah), a signed chapbook edition of “Little Happy Secrets”, an audio CD (at the $15 level this would also be a good choice for non-local supporters), top billing, dinner and more. As of right now (the evening of July 6), Dave and Melissa have raised $1,098 from 33 donors.

3 thoughts on “Dave Mortensen on crowdfunding a production of Little Happy Secrets”

  1. There’s also a radio version of the play available as a free podcast on iTunes, so we out-of-towners can still listen to the play, even if we won’t be in Salt Lake for the performance.

  2. This is a brilliant play, one of Mormonism’s best. It approaches the controversial subject in such a universally loving and faithful way that, no matter how you feel about homosexuality and it’s place in the Church, this play puts a faith promoting, compassionate and non-didactic spin on the subject matter. I would love to see this fund raiser work, because this play needs a larger audience.

  3. .

    If you want to be like Theric (and who doesn’t?) you will pledge some lucre to the cause.

    Roll call! he said, remembering something about peer pressure’s potential for good.

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