The Kickstarter Experience

sebastian cummings kickstarter


Sometime in October, I decided I was ready to produce my next show, my last two, self -produced shows having been in February and July of 2014. Being a 27 year old of limited finances, this would only be my 4th time producing a show on my own and I wanted to go about it differently. I easily spent $2,000 of my own money on each of my last two shows, but I couldn’t afford to go that route this time. There were so many thoughts, so many things I had learned from my experiences over the year and I felt ready to take all this knowledge and create work that showed my growth as an artist, producer, director and person. But, where would I get the money?
I’d heard stories of fellow artists using Kickstarter to fund their projects and of all the fundraising options, this seemed the most reasonable. I mean, what else was I going to do? Sell candy on SEPTA? Hold a benefit show in the gayborhood? Or to quote T.I. “Suck some dicks until some millions appear, Voila!” (Not to put down anyone who does sex work). People are slowly leaving their existence IRL for the matrix and I figure, that’s where I have to get their attention. So, I did some research on what makes for a successful Kickstarter and as you would have guessed, there isn’t a method that’s worked for everyone. But, there are two important things I learned, which are somewhat obvious, but hey, I’ll mention them anyway.
Your Video
Your video is like the calling card for your campaign. It says a lot about your style, ability to create and commitment to professionalism. From everything I read, you want a short video of the highest quality, which is unique to you and your style. It’s the equivelant to the first single released from an album; it shapes the perception of the yet to be seen project.
Your Newsletter
Almost every successful Kickstarter campaign I research relied on subscribers for about 70% of its funding.
Since I had already begun writing the script for the show, I had materiel to potentially use for the video. But, initially, I was nervous that it was too racially controversial for people, given the racial climate as of late and that it wasn’t light hearted enough, although it was definitely what I wanted to say. We’re trained to give people what they want, when it comes to advertising, to stay safe, but my work isn’t “safe”. It isn’t one of those dumb commercials for Tide or Honda that uses that annoying music that implies happiness and shows some family smiling with their fucking Golden Retriever. It discusses race, gender roles, misogyny; topics that can make plenty of people uncomfortable and everyone I know tried to convince me to make a video that appealed to everyone. I was told “serve their (the public’s) mission, not yours”. I was told, “give them what they want for now and then once you get far enough, you can do what you want?” Whenever I feel the urge to go left and someone insists I should go right, I go left even harder. I trust myself over anyone else. So, I got in touch with my friend and videographer Jordan Boggs-Hines and told him about the project. He was immediately game. We immediately filmed the video. It was an immediate hit. Listen to yourself, not other people, when it comes to matters of creativity.
My Kickstarter video was played 460 times (204 onsite, 256 offsite).
YouTube – 231 views

Having worked in Arts Administration over the past few years, I had plenty of contacts; actors, directors, coordinators, dancers… all sorts of people. I took all my contacts to MailChimp and started a newsletter. My first newsletter was laced with the boring professionalism that had been forced into my habit cabinet from years of work; the type of email that sounds like it was written as not to offend any middle class people, who find great pleasure in taking offense. So, I thought about it for a second… I thought I would never want to read this sh*t. So, I decided to write the most sarcastic email I could think of, an email that I would find funny. I was nervous about sending it, but I didn’t want to get in the habit of doing things the way everyone else did them. What has gotten me this far? The things that make me unique, so why start ignoring those things now? I sent 6 or 7 newsletters, switching up the style each time and I got so many responses about how great the emails were, how creative. After sending a newsletter, I would immediately see spikes in pledges. The newsletters were called “brilliant”, “genius”, “the most hilarious thing ever”. Who would have thought you could make a newsletter that people looked forward to?
Press tells people, “hey, some respectable person who sees tons of shit all the time thinks this is actually worth talking about.” People need a person of “authority” to tell them something new is worth getting into. That’s why the media has so much power. (That’s what my show is about!!!!! How Ironic!)
Phindie first came across my Kickstarter campaign and shared a blurb from one of my newsletters and my video on their website, which I greatly appreciated, because of all the communities I belong to (queer, theatre, music) I feel most invisible to the Philadelphia Theatre Community. They don’t see, they don’t care (that’s a generalization).
Philly Weekly
A friend of mine at Philly Weekly asked if I wanted to do a Q&A for the Philly Now blog. Duh! This really gave me the opportunity to talk about my goals in more depth, to give people a clearer idea of who I am and it had a Philly Weekly stamp, which helps people take your seriously.
Two of backers were referred by this article.
Huffington Post
A friend of mine knows a guy who writes for Huffington Post and kindly pitched my Kickstarter to him. He got into it. It’s Huffington Post, there’s not much else to say about that… It’s Huffington Post.
Two of my backers were referred by this article.
G Philly (Philadelphia Magazine Blog)
A friend of mine who writes for G Philly wanted to do a write up about all the buzz my Kickstarter was getting.
All this press helped, of course. But, in the end, it was my community, the people who respect me and my work who were the majority of my backers. I’m sure there are projects that experienced a plethora of anonymous backers, but I would suggest having a pool of people to start with. There were a number of backers who were strangers to me, one in particular that pledged 28% of my goal. There are people out there who believe in you and your work. They are there. Be genuine. Be persistent. Be grateful.
pledge source
During the run of my campaign, I used facebook and twitter to push the visibility of my campaign and it helped, but as we know, facebook is crowded with articles, ads and requests, so to get people’s attention, I began posting pictures every ten minutes or so with a caption about my Kickstarter campaign and the link, I made statuses and tagged hundreds of friends, I sent private messages, I did everything I could to make sure everyone knew about my Kickstarter, how much time was left and what was left of my goal. The further my campaign got, the more my social network circle began spreading the word, sharing articles about my campaign, suggesting that others checked it out and this not only helped my campaign, but it raised my spirits when stress and fear were trying to creep into my mind. I almost cried just seeing the kind words others shared about my project.
FIFTY PERCENT of my goal was pledged in the last 3 days
funding process
It’s so touching for me, because I’ve never felt this much support before… ever. I often feel like my family doesn’t care about my work and yet here are these people, these people who appreciate my work so much that they are willing to give their hard earned money to help me make this project come to light. I don’t have the words to express what that feels like and it makes me want to work my hardest, to push past whatever limits I may be allowing myself to be plagued by and transcend.
I reached my goal three hours before my Kickstarter campaign ended, minutes after getting off a plane.
And then work again.
Align your intentions with your desire.
Your life moves forward through desire.

A special thank you to my backers:
William Hourigan
A Stick and A Stone
Car Mon
Katy Ohh
Megan Edelman
Elizabeth Storey
Thomas Maxim Guerin
Kenya Sandhagen
Deb Kiehlmeier
Lee Minora
Jordan Boggs-Hines
Kim Powell
Messapotamia Lefae
Mark Knight
Langston Darby
Ben Grinberg
Rachel Passarella
Anne Saint Peter
Jen Kendall
Sasha Moore
Sarah Schol
Sara Parente
Rich Rubin
Jessica Goldschmidt
Kelly McCaughan
Brice Tarleton
Lauren Langley
Erin Boggs
Timaree Leigh
Morgan Andrews
Berta Storey
Theresa DeAngelis
meg foley
Brittnie Ann Lois
Britney Leigh Hines
Josh McIlvain
Dana Haberern
Bill Chenevert
Fredric Shelley
Gina M Apuzzo
Rachel Sereni
D’Andrea Durham
Nique Williams
Kemar Jewel
Christopher Munden
doug greene
kyle cassidy
Lauren Goodwin
Calvin Atkinson
Michelle Baxter
anne marie
Tamaira Nicole Cummings
Katherine Perry
Kelsey Boggs
Mike Shaffer
Lou Klein
Christine Fisler
Judith Idontwritelastnames
flory sophia
Mark Zelesky
rachel kramer
Sean Lynch
Sarah G.
E Carr
Paul Blore
Gene Duffy
Ryan Lohbauer
Danielle Solomon
Kara Marotta
Josh Schonewolf
Jackie Cheng
Kat Kelly
Jake Richter
Jennifer Reed
James Flesher
Kearstie Kaspar
Phoebe Dembs
Briana Cannon
Amanda Fach
Lainey Johnson


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