Last week, Broadway News posted an article on recent theatre closures. They highlighted shows like Mrs. Doubtfire, which announced a nine-week hiatus, and cited other shows that have also come to premature ends. The article posed an interesting question. How does theatre move forward?

Because of this sudden spike in show closures, producers on Broadway and across the country are being forced to reexamine their reliance on live performance. A reliance which hurts not only producers and investors, but actors, stage crew, and other below the line employees. The Broadway League recently proposed a 50% pay cut for employees of shows canceled due to COVID. The union has, obviously, rejected such calls. And now it seems that the theatre world is at an impasse.

In our present moment, the old model no longer works. But to answer Broadway News’s question, there are ways forward that could help productions sustain business and pay their employees, all while dislodging an industry wary of tech and entrenched in old ways of doing things.

Theatre must look toward digital avenues to create sustainable revenue. Streaming, for instance, could help productions weather COVID closures, and protect against future shutdowns of any kind. But streaming has always been tricky when it comes to theatre performances, considering the thrill of theatre is its live nature.

There is another digital route for retaining revenue, one that compliments theatre in terms of fanbase and artistic form.

Digital collectibles, or NFTs, are an exciting frontier being adopted by many industries to create new avenues of both fan interaction and revenue. When it comes to theatre, their use could prove to be invaluable by helping productions keep cash coming in when theatre’s are closed, and even help shows struggling during “normal times’’ with keeping the lights on.

Third Act, theatre’s first NFT marketplace, is helping theatre commercialize and digitize IP to help sustain business. They have already worked with shows like Herding Cats, which utilized both NFTs and streaming to succeed during a COVID summer, and Broadway stars like Brian Stokes Mitchell and Kristin Chenoweth have also jumped on board to take advantage of the new technology.

But how exactly do digital collectibles offer a way forward for theatre productions?

Firstly, it’s important to note that through Third Act, producers and IP owners receive a percentage of every transaction their collectible is involved in, which obviously includes initial sale, but also future auctions. So regardless of when or how an NFT is sold, the original IP owner always receives royalties. This is crucial for productions looking for help in solidifying their financial positions and solving problems that have been plaguing theatre even before COVID.

One issue that contributed to Doubtfire’s recent closure was a lack of pre-sales. Digital collectibles could help bolster ticket sales in general, but pre-sales could see an extra bump when paired with NFTs.

For example, audience members who buy tickets during pre-sales could be given an exclusive collectible available only to those who purchase tickets before a certain date. Look no further than the Spiderman: No Way Home premier as a real-world use case. And while some customers may find digital collectibles to be enough of a draw to shell out for early tickets, they can be used in a variety of ways to lure the more tech adverse theatre fan into our brave new world.

Combining the digital with the physical is one way that shows could take advantage of NFTs, while making the idea more attractive to those wary of the new tech.

NFTs are by nature one-of-a-kind, with ownership validated through blockchain technology. Meaning owners of digital collectibles can be offered exclusive real-world benefits that can be validated with their ownership of the NFT. Offering audience members unique experiences like cast meet-and-greets when they purchase a ticket-NFT package is just one tactic shows can employ to help with sales. Not only would the audience member receive a unique digital collectible, but they also use that collectible to then access a physical benefit or experience, providing “real world value” to those who may otherwise not care about digital collectibles on their own.

Building community is another benefit of minting digital collectibles for your show or IP. Marketing is an enormous factor in the success for shows of any size. NFTs could aid in marketing efforts in a couple of ways.

Third Act is both a marketplace and community. The mission is to connect fans over a shared love of theatre and allow them to discover under-the-radar shows through our discover page. Having your show’s collectibles on Third Act is a marketing tactic that doesn’t simply pay for itself, but because the collectible is for sale, it actually has the potential to generate income. Fans looking to discover the next big star scour the marketplace in the same way baseball card collectors go after rookie cards, and auctions can heat up in the blink of an eye. All of it driving more eyeballs toward your show.

Speaking of auctions, another benefit that is perhaps the most obvious way NFTs can help sustain a production is through the simple buying and selling of digital collectibles. Theatre fans are all about merchandise, whether it be tee shirts or mugs. And NFTs are just another collectible that passionate theatre fans will want to own.

Through the marketplace, fans can both buy and sell digital assets through auctions or a set price, and as previously mentioned, a percentage of all of those sales goes back to the IP owner. Meaning evergreen revenue continues even when the show stops. This allows productions to keep money in not only their pockets, but the pockets of those, like swing actors and crew members, who make theatre so special.

While COVID closures are truly unfortunate, leaving many wondering what to do, there is a silver lining. Industries are beginning to adapt in ways that make things better for employees. For instance, companies are keeping remote options open for those who find the work-from-home lifestyle attractive. Other industries should see this as an opportunity to evolve and make a post-COVID world better for all. When it comes to theatre, adapting to the situation with digital alternatives is one way to not only help pandemic proof live performance, but also march brightly into a future where theatre, and the theatre business, is more equitable for all.

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