How Much Are You Worth?

Tickets for Les Misrables at the Kennedy Center:$39.00 to $139.00.

Tickets for Book of Mormon on Broadway: $69.00 to $477.00.

Tickets for A Bright New Boise at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: $55.00 to $67.50.

Tickets for Porgy and Bess at American Repertory Theatre: $25.00 to $120.00.

Tickets to In The Red Brown Water at Company One: $15.00 to $38.00.

Wow, what?

Listed above are the Saturday night ticket prices to a few select shows at varying “levels” of theatre. I tried to get a good combination of commercial theatres, big name theatres, regional theatres and smaller regional theatres to see the differing options.

Now if I’m being completely honest here, the only ticket prices I’d pay for these shows would be $25 for Porgy and Bess and up to that much for In The Red Brown Water. Now you might tell me, “But wait, Danny, all of these theatres have options that allow for at least the possibility of a lowered price, and some even make it very easy to get that lower price, especially for students and young-people.” “Yes,” I would agree, “but if they make it easy, why charge so much in the first place?”

Of course I take advantage of these discounted prices. Woolly Mammoth offers $15 tickets to all of its performances, plus two Pay-What-You-Can performances for every show that are always PACKED. Company One has what I think is an epic student subscription package that’s only $50, though I’ve never taken advantage of that because dropping more than $20 at a time is a hard choice for me. Broadway of course has lotteries and TKTS and almost every regional theatre has some sort of discount. However if these theatres are so ready, willing and able to offer discounts, why not just have lower ticket prices?

I believe theatre is for everyone, not just those who can afford it. I also believe that what we do is something with a value of some sort and that it’s generally not cheap/free to produce theatre as well. So how do we put a value on our work? What’s a reasonable price? For a while I had the thought that no one should have to pay more than what they make in an hour, per-hour of the show they’ll be seeing. I’ve fallen out of love with that idea. In an interesting meeting with a few of the companies that are in residence at the H-Street Playhouse in DC while I was doing my internship with No Rules Theatre Company and there was the discussion of a discount, or free tickets, or something of that sort for people who lived within a certain radius of the theatre. One person though had an objection to the idea of free tickets because he believed that it would devalue the work we were doing in the public eye. At first I was a bit enraged by this idea…but I understand where he’s coming from. It’s sort of an odd argument. We are, in fact, providing a product, and generally we’re asking to be paid for said product. So how do we come up with the price? How do I say to you, “Well my show is worth $25 plus the two hours of your time you’ll spend receiving it.” It’s sort of an odd conundrum. Of course I want others to find value in my work and want to support it (and its unavoidable that money is sort of the end-all be-all for support), but at the same time I would rather just let everyone come in, see it, and hopefully take away something in their life that was worth more than money.

I think a lot of the business models we use for Theatre Companies are outdated. A lot of people say that. I agree. I also don’t have a solution…yet. To be perfectly honest I just don’t know enough now. But there are definitely some companies that are slowly but surely going in the right direction. I don’t know which company, but I’ve heard of one that was completely PWYC for every performance of a show in their season and their revenue from tickets actually went up. That’s taking a huge risk though. I almost like the idea of doing PWYC for every performance and collecting after the show, so the audience can judge after they’ve received their product how much it was worth, not a crap shoot before they’ve gotten it.

This post feels a little silly to me. I haven’t said anything astoundingly new. I haven’t solved the problem of ticket prices and business models. I think I just want to say…I know it’s a problem, and I want to help fix it. I hope you do to. While I know you need the money to keep producing your work, I need the money to survive, and free tickets are tempting. I hope one day we can work together to find our happy medium.

~Danny Park

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