In 1987, a man named Curt Jones froze ice cream into pellets with liquid nitrogen, named them Dippin’ Dots, and eventually dubbed them “Ice Cream of the Future.” Decades later can it still be ice cream of the future or has the future come?
Mixed Blood now enters its ninth year of Radical Hospitality. While first-come-first-served admission without cost is the most visible manifestation of Radical Hospitality, it is intended to address all barriers to people attending live theater in general and Mixed Blood more specifically. Internally it has become so much more, guiding our approach to all that we do.
To become the theatrical destination for people with disabilities, for example, Mixed Blood not only offers a performance with ASL interpretation and live audio description, but offers audio description for virtually every performance. There are tactile tours for people with vision loss, projected supertitles of the script at every performance for people with hearing loss, mats for guide dogs’ comfort, facility improvements and changes to allow people with mobility challenges to sit or work almost anywhere, sensory friendly performances, free transportation to and from the theater, a year-round Disability Organizer with a Disability Advisory Council, and more, but also programming about disability, with artists with disabilities, and even festivals of plays centered on disability. We have dedicated performances for DeafBlind patrons. All that said, our work has such a long way to go in this arena.
Such targeted attempts could be cited about many populations underserved by the American theater.
Just as Kleenex has become synonymous with tissues, the Irvine Foundation hosted a conference in May for its arts grantees entitled Radical Hospitality, not because of Mixed Blood, but because the term is now equated with efforts to become a welcoming, inviting, affirming place for all.
After conducting focus groups a decade ago to determine the barriers to participation in theater, the one issue that spanned all groups was that finance was a barrier to participation. Mixed Blood had been receiving funds to offer free or reduced admission for people with disabilities, for Latinos, and for the immigrants and refugees of Cedar Riverside. Upon closer inspection and reflection that segregated treatment was deemed antithetical to our mission and no cost admission for all became a principle of Radical Hospitality.
Statistically, Radical Hospitality has been a triumphant success in transforming the composition of Mixed Blood’s audiences in terms of age, race, class, gender, and disability, but the overall assumption that finance is a barrier to participation is still being tested. While composition has been transformed, the overall size of the audience has not significantly grown. Is that because we continually reinvent our marketing strategies and don’t let any effort time to get traction? Is it the freedom to be bolder in our selection of material to be produced, material that is offputting to some? Is it subtle racism or classism that keeps some people from not wanting to assemble with certain others?
Beginning Radical Hospitality was a courageous act by Mixed Blood’s Board of Directors. It was a three-year trial. After three years the Board assessed and voted unanimously that Radical Hospitality was to be Mixed Blood modus operandi in perpetuity. It has become our brand, our culture, our competitive distinction, and the basis for our value system.
Whether you come via Guaranteed Admission or Radical Hospitality, please come. There are three parts to the successful experience at Mixed Blood: the area through which you travel to get to Mixed Blood, who sits beside you while at Mixed Blood, and who’s on stage when you come. All three things must be succeed for us to succeed.
Like Dippin’ Dots, after nine years is Radical Hospitality really radical or just our way of walkin’ our talk? Whatever the answer, Radical Hospitality is a source of pride for all of us at Mixed Blood.