First, it took the sitcoms. Now the Netflix pay model is seeping into theater culture. Finally.

Third Rail Repertory is the first Portland company pitching a monthly membership subscription for its shows. Nothing else is changing—single and season are still available, but now it's $29.33 a month for full access to shows, readings, rehearsals, pop-up Wild Card performances at Third Rail's new space at Imago Theater (17 SE 8th Ave., 235-1101, thirdrailrep.org) and the National Theater Live screenings of London's big-theater productions that Third Rail puts on regularly at the World Trade Center.

Pay-what-you-will nights and previews are pretty standard in Portland theater, but those are normally unpolished productions. Some companies, including Third Rail, sell massively-discounted tickets ($5) to Oregon Trail cardholders and patrons on food stamps. A full-season pass for Portland Center Stage's season runs up to $504 and tickets for a main show at the Newmark regularly cost $85-$95.

 
Third Rail's new model is for the average folk who are above-average fans of theater.

In April, WW reported that some theaters are changing their programming and pricing because they have to pay actors as employees, rather than independent contractors. It's a common debate for artists, actors and even yoga instructors. For theater companies it means talent costs more, so there's either less money for marketing, smaller shows or ticket prices go up.

Putting butts in the seats is priority number one—or connecting to the community in the "ever-changing landscape of the performing arts," as Third Rail's Artistic Director Scott Yarbrough puts it.

 

"Of course it doesn't hurt that it's less than the cost of my gym membership," said company member Isaac Lamb, "we hope folks will want to exercise their curiosity too." 

This is a guinea pig initiative from Third Rail and it's setting a precedent for Portland theaters. But when was the last time you watched Mad Men on a TV set?


GO: Third Rail's Membership Launch Party, with performances by Portland band The Bylines, is open to subscribers and volunteers. It is at 6 pm Monday, July 20 at Imago Theater, 17 SE 8th Ave. 

Memberships will be available to the public Monday, July 20, online at thirdrailrep.org or by phone at 235-1101.