The concept behind Super Secret Arts is so simple and so utterly New York that we are, indeed, baffled at the fact that it hasn't existed before now.
Functioning both as a theater space and a production company, Super Secret Arts is basically a subscription theater service ("Netflix for theater," as the owners of the destination say.)
Interested New Yorkers get to pick between two types of memberships. For $100 a month, they'll have access to the entire calendar of shows mounted in the warehouse and they'll also be able to enjoy a free drink during each performance and bring along a friend at no additional charge. The $25 per month membership—an incredibly affordable entry price into the entertainment world, especially when measured against the average cost of Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets—will also guarantee unlimited free access to shows, plus the ability to bring along a guest for $15. Currently, there are over 20 shows on the schedule for May.
The new destination in Gowanus is the brainchild of theater veterans Kevin Laibson and Toby Singer, who soft launched the space in late November before having to shut down due to Omicron and re-opening in early March of this year.
"In the spring of 2020, I was watching the larger racial reckoning happening society-wide and in the context of theater and people weren't talking about the economic aspect of theater making," recalls 39-year-old Singer. "I thought about different business models that one could superimpose on the theater industry, which is notoriously slow and resistant to change. Looking around, I was seeing subscription models that people are very used to now in the larger world—like Hulu, Netflix and Spotify."
As the duo explains, the business model allows for dual benefits. On the one hand, it makes productions more affordable for audiences. On the other hand, it could potentially help patrons expand their horizons. "You come for a comedy show but the subscription also gives you access to an upcoming musical, so you end up staying and enjoying a show you wouldn't otherwise have attended," says Singer.
Laibson explains that the roster of presentations includes shows submitted by makers for consideration and a slew of finds by Singer himself. As for how the artists get paid—it depends. Some get a fixed fee while others agree on a revenue share in much the same way you'd observe at other theater venues.
Currently serving snacks, the venue is working towards securing its beer and wine license, at which point they'll expand their menu to include more solid food options as well.
Although Super Secret Arts benefits from a New York launch—likely the world's most ripe city for theater goers—the business owners hope to eventually expand their concept to other parts of the country.
"We're starting with one space and, once membership numbers have grown to a sustainable level, we want to open other physical locations in other parts of the city—maybe in Astoria at first, but then moving to other cities across the country," explains Singer. "They will be artistically independent venues but the membership would give you access to the locations in other cities."
A key part of that plan involves digital media. Although still murky on the details, the business owners reveal that they hope to be able to capture all the shows that they present live in a video format as well, to be accessible by folks at home as well. "We're building modalities to capture everything on a digital platform," explains 40-year-old Laibson.
"We're witnessing a larger shift in what audiences expect, what they are interested in," says Singer. "I think we are staking our claim that what they'll be interested in long term is something that exists in this hybrid space. Both digital and live theater are vital moving forward as people will want to experience things in different places, at different times and on demand but there will always be the need to experience something jointly and for people to come together physically in a room."
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