So when you read my previous post about Robert Porterfield and (I hope) read my takeaways, you may have noticed that I didn’t even mention his main innovation: bartering tickets for food. And partly that is because I didn’t want to get too far into the weeds and put the cart before the horse–I’ll be talking about that idea more in the future (or in the book this blog will lead to, Pick Yourself: A New Path for Your Theater Career). But a few words about it wouldn’t go amiss.
If you haven’t figured it out already, this book/blog will be about artists themselves taking control of the means of production rather than relying on being chosen. And yes, like Porterfield discovered, that means creating a “business” and being an “entrepreneur.” And if those words make you uncomfortable, try to tuck those feelings away for a while, because they might not be as scary as you think. More on that later.
Anyway, Porterfield based the Barter Theatre on barter, on trading tickets for food. Looked at another way, food (which otherwise would have had to have been paid for with money) served as a substitute for money, which meant that the personnel of the Barter could make ends meet more easily.
Here’s where I’m going to recommend an important book for anybody who is starting to be intrigued by possibilities. It isn’t about theater, it is about a family farm with a strong connection to the community, but the advice author Shannon Hayes imparts is applicable to many situations. The book is called Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Hayes writes, “There are four basic categories of income here in the life-serving economy: (1) meaningful employment, (2) business income, (3) nonmonetary income, and (4) passive income.” Porterfield’s business model was based on type 3, nonmonetary income, which is “any need that can be met without having to shell out dollars for it.” Porterfield had a lot of these: housing was donated by a closed school, a performance space was donated by the town government, and food was traded for tickets. “Any opportunity a [person] can take to reduce their expenses through nonmonetary income helps them sidestep inflation.” The chapter on “Income” in her book is alone worth the price of the book.
So the question raised by Robert Porterfield for you, dear theater-future-entrepreneur-type-person might be: what other things might be bartered for? The New York times published a nice article by Fran Cabellero about how it started to occur during the pandemic. Of the four types of income that Hayes lists, nonmonetary income is just one; she recommends that every family [or person, or theater company] use three of them. More on the others at a later date.
The point is that we’ve become addicted to thinking in terms of paying and being paid for everything with money. But if you had a roof over your head and food on the table and clothes on your back and the time to create theater, how much more cash would you need? You’d need some, of course–just enough, and then a little more–but you’d need less than if you had to pay for rent, food, and clothing in addition. Porterfield points toward a way of thinking that might be worth exploring.
For now, setting aside trading tickets, what skills do you have that might be bartered? Or what skill might you be willing to develop in order to barter it? it costs nothing to imagine. For instance, do you love to make pies or your own Very Special brownies? Or maybe you have computer skills that someone else might benefit from? Or what kinds of things might you need that you could exchange tickets for? An annual dental appointment with a local dentist? Maybe someone who’s a home improvement kind of guy would be willing to help you, I don’t know, build a box office cubby or add some electrical sockets.