Call and Response: Sunil Vishnu K

by Zachary Mannheimer

in I AM THEATRE

Post image for Call and Response: Sunil Vishnu K

“So – how do you make money?”
-Sunil Vishnu K, I AM THEATRE 

I spent the better part of a decade running theatre companies in NYC and working in restaurants to pay my bills. Theatre didn’t pay (not the kind of theatre I make) and restaurants did. So combine them. The last thing NYC needs is another theatre company or another restaurant. But there must be somewhere in America that does? In 2007 I left my NYC theatre life and drove to 22 cities around the country to find the right city where I could open this concept, one that would take me 20 years and $100 million to do in NYC. In Des Moines, it looks like it might only take 5 years and $2.5 million.

I moved to Des Moines in September 2007, a day after my 30th birthday. I didn’t know a single person in Iowa. I now have a wife, a 2-year-old daughter, a son to be born sometime in the next 8 weeks, a mortgage and a non-profit called the Des Moines Social Club. We produce over 250 events every year from live theatre to ping-pong tournaments, art openings, trivia nights, lesbian talk shows, toddler dance parties, concerts and classes. DMSC is about to launch a capital campaign to renovate an old firehouse in downtown to turn into our permanent home. And it may only cost $2.5 million.

So – how do you make money? Selling your art is never going to cut a paycheck for yourself and your staff to live on. But a restaurant, a bar, a coffee shop, a comic book store, a graphic design firm, video production company, etc will pay rent to be in a space that has 50,000 people coming through it annually. Other arts groups that want to lower their overhead by co-habitating will pay rent. Jointly apply for grants and up the amount of people you are serving. Get it all under one roof. And you can still afford to keep your art cheap enough for the masses.

This not only assures a way of making money, but it also brings in a sensational mix of people from all walks of life. Your art is now alive and being paid for on the best of all levels. There is always something to sell. As artists we have had to have two careers at times in order to pay the bills. Both skills are marketable. So sell one and make your art.

There remains thousands of places to make your art. Sometimes the places you least think of need it the most, and therefore embrace it, allowing you to not only make your art but can help you find a way to pay for it.

What place did you leave behind that might need theatre more than where
you live now?


Call and Response extends the conversation surrounding the I AM THEATRE videos (and hopefully inspires you to make your own video). You can watch Sunil’s video and catch up on I AM THEATRE here.


Zachary Mannheimer: Executive Director, Des Moines Social Club
After a road-trip to 22 cities around the country, Zachary settled in Des Moines in 2007 to found the Des Moines Social Club, an arts and educational non-profit. Focused on the retention and recruitment of young people, DMSC uses the arts as a catalyst to create unprecedented community engagement. Since opening its doors in 2009, DMSC has hosted over 500 arts related events and seen over 100,000 patrons. Founding the non-profit from scratch, Zachary has raised over $1,000,000 in his short time in Des Moines towards the downtown project, where he serves as Executive Director.

Zachary has taught and lectured at NYU, Wagner College, Muhlenberg College and St. Margaret’s in Ascot, England. Zachary has articles and essays published in: The New York Theater Review and American Theatre magazine. The Des Moines Social Club has been featured in Time Magazine, USA Today, The Village Voice, The New York Times and The Des Moines Register.

Zachary was recently awarded 2011 Citizen of the Year by the Des Moines Downtown Chamber, 40 under 40 National New Leaders Council, 40 under 40 in Des Moines’ Business Publications, The Iowa Governor’s Volunteer Award, and the DSM Young Professional of the Year Award in 2009. He holds a dual BA in Theatre Arts and Philosophy from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the founder of the Subjective Theatre Company in New York, NY.

  • Mike

    Great to see you, your thoughts and vision featured here Zachary.

    I, for one, can assure readers that Mr. Mannheimer is “the real deal”!