Fringe Festival Impresarios Find Angels Online With RocketHub

This afternoon, a coming-of-age play called “When Last We Flew” by Harrison David Rivers opens at the New York International Fringe Festival, thanks to an innovative new online arts-funding source.

Producers Eric Louie and Anthony Francavilla, both 27, raised $6,651, most of the play’s budget, via a website called RocketHub. Operated out of a spare bedroom in the Harlem, New York, apartment of company co-founder Jed Cohen, it invites musicians, artists, theater producers and others to post information and videos about arts projects and solicit contributions.

“Young people are apt to give money,” said Louie, who in addition to being a staffer at New York’s Public Theater is writing a master’s thesis on young philanthropy in the arts at Columbia University’s Theatre Management and Producing program. “But how do you light the fire under them to make them do it?”

RocketHub, launched in January, has funded more than 30 projects. Kickstarter, a more established competitor that began in 2009, has funded over 2,000.

Both so-called crowd-sourcing sites are all or nothing: If a project doesn’t meet its goal by a deadline, contributors direct their largess elsewhere or get their money back.

RocketHub takes 8 percent for itself when a project is successfully funded, some of which goes to credit-card processing. Kickstarter and partner Amazon.com take 8 percent to 10 percent, depending on the size of the gift.

Free Labor

Louie and Francavilla have produced playwright Rivers on a smaller scale, even asking friends to work gratis. For “When Last We Flew,” with a cast of seven, they sought new funding sources.

“None of us have money, none of us have access to money or come from money,” Louie said over lunch near the Public. “If you can’t get money from friends and family you can take your credit card and swipe it. Neither of us wanted to do that.”

(On Monday, Louie takes over as director of special projects at the Public. His Fringe show isn’t affiliated with the theater.)

Given that a Broadway musical can cost north of $16 million, raising $6,000 may seem small potatoes. But RocketHub contributors, or “fuelers” as they’re called, aren’t given back a penny if the project’s a hit. Nor is there a tax deduction offered, unless the production files papers to be a nonprofit.

Kushner

“We tell our creatives it’s not a donation, it’s not an investment, it’s an exchange,” said RocketHub co-founder Brian Meece, a 36-year-old who composes and performs music for the ukulele. “What people want is to make an impact. It’s something you can’t buy in a store.”

Contributors to “When Last We Flew,” which was inspired by Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” got perks. For $40: a ticket to the show and an invitation to a July 23 party with the cast. (Fringe tickets normally cost $15.) Larger sums yielded additional tickets, an invitation to a rehearsal and one-on-one time with the producers and playwright.

“When Last We Flew” was the first play to raise money on RocketHub. Other Fringe shows followed, including “Baristas,” about serial killers and romance set at a coffee house, which as of yesterday morning raised $2,745; and the comedy “Lemonade: A Play of World Domination,” which raised $3,006.

‘Hamlet’

Kickstarter funded the Fringe’s “Hamlet Shut Up,” which describes itself as “Shakespeare’s masterpiece without all that pesky dialogue” ($4,150); the Canadian comic import “The Swearing Jar” ($2,850) and “Group,” about “six lost souls in purgatory” who must choose between “the baggage left behind in life, or the uncertainty of what waits on the other side” ($2,500).

Early on, Louie and Francavilla received $750 through RocketHub from a supportive producer they knew, Robert Carreon.

Strangers also stepped up. Laura Camien, who produced Broadway’s “[title of show]” -- a musical about the making of a musical -- learned about “When Last We Flew” from a letter Francavilla circulated to theater people via the networking service LinkedIn. Camien said before she finished reading the play -- which is set in Kansas, where she grew up -- she was won over by passionate postings on the Internet from people involved in the production, detailing their challenges. She donated $1,500.

“When I read all of their blogs, I liked these people,” she said.

The New York International Fringe Festival runs through Aug. 29 in lower Manhattan. Information: http://www.fringenyc.org/.

To contact the writer on this story: Philip Boroff in New York at pboroff@bloomberg.net;

Enlarge image RocketHub Founders

RocketHub Founders

RocketHub Founders

Laura Boyd/RocketHub via Bloomberg

Jed Cohen, Brian Meece and Vladimir Vukicevic, the founders of RocketHub in New York. Donors were able to use the website to capitalize ``When Last We Flew,'' a play at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Jed Cohen, Brian Meece and Vladimir Vukicevic, the founders of RocketHub in New York. Donors were able to use the website to capitalize ``When Last We Flew,'' a play at the New York International Fringe Festival. Photographer: Laura Boyd/RocketHub via Bloomberg

Enlarge image "When Last We Flew"

"When Last We Flew"

"When Last We Flew"

Karen Rusch/Sam Morris PR via Bloomberg

Rory Lipede and Allison Mackie in "When Last We Flew," presented as part of the New York International Fringe Festival." The play was funded online using the website source RocketHub.

Rory Lipede and Allison Mackie in "When Last We Flew," presented as part of the New York International Fringe Festival." The play was funded online using the website source RocketHub. Photographer: Karen Rusch/Sam Morris PR via Bloomberg

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