The Southern Theater’s ARTShare Program Brings the Netflix Model to the Stage

The ghosts at the Southern Theater must have so much to talk about. In its century-plus of existence, it’s been a vaudeville house, home to films ranging from silent to pornographic, a short-lived second stage for the Guthrie, and an early venue for luminaries including Zenon Dance and Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

Of course in 2011 (one year past its hundredth birthday), it was also a case study in mismanagement in the arts, with a money meltdown that led to a near-total eradication of its full-time staff positions and the disappearance of what had been increasingly inventive and ambitious programming in theater, music, and dance. To be frank, it didn’t look like the Southern was going to make it, though last man standing Damon Runnals (then production manager, now executive director) pledged that the theater would re-emerge after a long, gradual, and careful climb from a ruined balance sheet.

Amazingly enough, the Southern indeed lives on today, and is now home to ARTShare: a theater subscription program receiving national attention for its innovation. Modeled on Netflix (monthly fee, unlimited access, risk-taking encouraged), it bands together 15 local companies performing in rotation throughout the year. A subscription costs $18 a month and buys a seat to as many performances as the cardholder wants to indulge in (there’s an element of binge watching here as well).

ARTShare is different in two crucial ways: Each yearlong membership starts from the day of purchase (instead of being tied into a particular season), and because it’s a venue subscription, you’re not locked in to the work of one particular company. That last point is double-edged, of course—a Guthrie or Jungle subscription more or less guarantees a particular artistic approach. Here nothing is guaranteed, and surprises can notoriously break both good and bad.

I think the coming year looks auspicious. The roster of companies participating is a small-theater who’s who, including Live Action Set, Black Label Movement, and Four Humors. This month’s choices include Savage Umbrella’s These Are the Men (a new take on the Oedipus myth), a work called This Is Our Youth by young people’s company Blue Water, and the dance-theater Hollywoodland from Main Street School of Performing Arts.

The only reason to subscribe to anything, of course, is the sense of assurance that we’ll get quality in return. The Southern truly looks as though it’s going to deliver—and many will likely auto-renew.

This is Our Youth: 3/21–4/19
Hollywoodland: 3/7–4/17
These Are the Men: 3/14–4/18
southerntheater.org

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Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.