Theatre Audience 101: Avoiding the Cost Barrier

theatre_ticketOne thing my theatre friends and I spend a lot of time thinking about is how to make theatre more accessible to the masses. I sometimes think theatre is a crazy way to spend a life. Production is expensive in money, time, and energy, and it has a limited audience–and therefore an arguably limited effect on anything macrocosmic. Yet theatre continues to hold itself to standards of excellency, social awareness, and discipline that other artistic fields could really stand to learn from. There is nothing as emotionally affecting as really well-done piece of theatre. If you need a laugh, and everything else is failing, it might be time to hit up your local improv theatre. If you need a cry, find the nearest live drama because something about this happening feet away from you brings your own emotions to a head.

Throughout my life, even very good friends of mine have expressed concerns about going to to the theatre for understandable reasons. Price, knowledge of events, and ignorance about decorum top the list of concerns,  but we’re going to start with the biggest named barrier: affordability.

First, a bit of a soapbox, but I’ll keep it brief: theatre is expensive to put on. If you have the money for a full-priced ticket, but would like it to be cheaper, please reconsider that standpoint. Those sets, props, even the seat you sit in do not come cheap, and theatres generally do not have the corporate backing that movie theatres and concert venues do. This gets truer the smaller the company. I have never been as satisfied by a good meal out as I have been by a night at the theatre. I haven’t even touched on the crappy pay artists and administrators take to make the magic happen, so if you have the means, please stop reading and go to the theatre.

tickHowever, it is very likely that you do NOT have the means, in which case my intention is not to make you feel unworthy of theatre.

The first method is the most obvious–do your homework. Many, many even highly-rated and professional theatres have a Pay-What-You-Can night, a rush line, or flash specials that pop up online. A Pay-What-You-Can is literally a night where you go and pay anything you have on your person. I’ve accepted as low as seven cents without batting an eye. The catch (if there is one) is something minor: they might not allow reservations, it might be on a non-traditional night, or maybe they’re only accepting cash or check for it. A rush line is when a theatre has tickets left, so they sell them at a reduced rate starting (usually) about a half an hour before the show (you can do this with any Touring Broadway show and your student ID…the Ballet does this too!). This is often cash only, but not always. It’s also possible that the theatre or show you’re wanting to see charges different rates on different nights. Most information nowadays is found online, but you can always call the box office with questions.

Unfortunately, there is a chance that the show you most wanted to see is going to be too expensive. For-profit theatres in particular have runs that do really well that they sell out without dropping the price. I don’t agree with this policy, but I don’t run every theatre. In that case ask around, investigate other theatres, check your local paper’s event calendar. There is a really, really good chance a different organization has some options for you. If you want to see a show on Friday, you can see a show on Friday, you just have to be willing to be a little flexible on what the show is. I know here in Milwaukee, there are excellent organizations that are always free or naturally low-cost, and 90% of companies in Milwaukee have either a Pay-What-You-Can, Rush Line, or even .99 cent preview. I know not everyone lives in a metro area, but you likely still have options.


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