When The Hypocrites theater company announced it would be cancelling the remainder of its 20th anniversary season this past December it also said it would be rethinking a more feasible way to finance its operations. Some feared for the future of this always experimental and much acclaimed company. But as it turns out, an innovative new business model has been devised. And who knows — it might just be the wave of the future for non-profit producers.

The principal goal? According to artistic director Sean Graney (whose title will now be “lead artist” rather than “artistic director”), it is to forge “a stronger connection with our audiences and therefore see more successful art being brought into the world.”

As explained in a prepared statement: “As opposed to a traditional season of shows, The Hypocrites will operate on a project-by-project basis and secure all production expenses before each individual show is programmed. The capital for our productions will be obtained mostly through negotiated contracts with partner organizations, but we also are creating a new system for funding self-produced shows while testing audience viability. The new program will be called ‘Ticket Pledges’.”

At the same time, The Hypocrites has invited 30 actors to be a part of its ensemble — a mix of performers from its 20-year history who will be collaborating with Graney to develop material for future programming. And Kelli Strickland, formerly the company’s former executive director, will now continue as a “contracted adviser” working closely with Graney.

The first production under the Ticket Pledge system will be “The Aristophanesathon,” Graney’s follow-up to the immensely successful  “All Our Tragic,” its day-long marathon of Greek tragedies. The new work will be a four-and-a-half-hour adaptation that combines the 11 surviving plays of Aristophanes, the master comic playwright of ancient Athens. The cast of six will feature Hypocrites ensemble members Breon Arzell, Sasha Smith and Tien Doman.

The ticket pledge link: https://www.the-hypocrites.com/hypocrites-21/

Additionally, the Mercury Theater Chicago will present The Hypocrites’ production of “Dracula,” set to open on Oct. 21, 2017.  Among the cast will be Hypocrites ensemble members Rob Mclean, Isa Arciniegas and Janelle Villas. The Hypocrites also will be touring its popular Gilbert & Sullivan adaptations featuring many ensemble members and longtime artistic collaborators.

“We are extremely excited to announce these changes to our organization,” said Graney. “We want to make theater for audiences. Therefore, we are making the audiences a central part of the dialogue for programming each show.”

Noted Strickland: “This decision just makes good business sense, with the business side of the company always operating in the black without reliance on surpluses in sales goals or fundraising to plug any revenue holes.”

Kelli Strickland, adviser for The Hypocrites theater company. (Photo: Courtesy of The Hypocrites)

Here is how the new Hypocrites system will work according to today’s announcement:

When the company has a project for consideration, it will post the description of the proposed show online and ask for a set number of ticket pledges that will cover all production costs. Patrons may either purchase a ticket or pledge to purchase a ticket. The ticket pledge window will remain open for 10 weeks. When a patron makes a pledge to purchase a ticket, The Hypocrites will collect the patron’s name and email, but no credit card information. The company also will be accepting tax-deductible donations that will be go toward covering the cost of the production.

Once a show reaches its “critical interest” number of ticket pledges, the show will be officially programmed, and the patrons will be contacted to make purchasing arrangements. If a proposed show does not reach its minimum amount of ticket pledges it will be taken as a signal that community interest is low, and the company will not pursue that project.

If a patron made a pledge, no transaction will occur. If a ticket is purchased during the ticket pledge window — but the show does not amass critical interest — the purchase costs will be reimbursed, minus $4 for each ticket to cover outside processing fees.

Once green-lighted, the show will operate like a traditionally programmed production and sell tickets on top of the already purchased pledges. If demand keeps escalating, additional performances can be added.