It took a while for me to sort out that things only went on sale when people didn’t buy them. I don’t know what I thought when I was younger: that The Gap just had days when they were feeling generous?
There’s a lot of debate out there about discounting tickets. Should it be done at all, and if so, when, and by how much? One wonders why theater and classical music tickets aren’t simply cheaper, but there are people who analyze such things for a living and I am not one of them, so I won’t go into it here. I would, however, like to publicly thank two New York institutions for discounting not only the tickets they can’t sell, but the tickets they can sell as well.
Disclaimer: The rest of this post will probably annoy you if you’re over 35. If it makes you feel any better, I’m getting older every day.
I’ve been a member of the Roundabout Theatre Company‘s HIPTIX program for the past few years. Their tagline gets right to it: “You’re Young. You’re Broke. Broadway is way too $$$. We get it.” Let’s watch their nifty promo video:
HIPTIX is a miracle. It’s completely free, as they say in the video, and they really do have $20 tickets for every show, i.e. not just the productions that are the equivalent of the size 14 orange “boyfriend shirt” dress at The Gap. Through HIPTIX, I’ve seen Wishful Drinking, Anything Goes, Brief Encounter, Bye Bye Birdie, Waiting for Godot, and The Importance of Being Earnest. There’s one HIPTIX party per show, but HIPTIX tickets aren’t limited to the day of the party; Roundabout makes HIPTIX available for most performances during any given show’s run. I’ve been to the parties, though: two (Wishful Drinking, Anything Goes) were at restaurants around in midtown, and the third (Earnest) was at the theater. So, for $20, my sister Aliza and I sat in the 3rd row mezzanine for a major Broadway revival and had beer and Indian food after? Well, we don’t like beer, but we could have had beer. Best deal in town. Go ahead and join here. You can drink our beer at the next party.
Last season, I signed up for Carnegie Hall’s Notables at the urging of a friend who’s a manager. Yes, we go to concerts all the time for work, but there are a lot of non-work Carnegie concerts that we’d previously wanted to see but couldn’t afford. Ostensibly, Notables is like any young donor program, but there’s a $20/year level that gives you access to $20 tickets for all Carnegie Hall concerts. The key here, as with HIPTIX, is not just $20 to the concerts they can’t sell: Carnegie is committed to $20 Notables tickets for every concert no matter how popular it will be. For example, I bought two tickets to Brad Mehldau’s Zankel recital (that’s the smaller hall at Carnegie, so, basically a guaranteed sell-out for an artist who’s that popular), and my seats were in the middle of the orchestra on the aisle. Notables tickets go on sale on the first of every month, Carnegie reminds you with a nice e-blast, and there’s no service fee if you buy the tickets at the Carnegie Hall box office. Taking a gander at the old credit card statements from this past season, it looks like I bought at least eight pairs of Carnegie Hall tickets that had nothing to do with work at $20/ticket. Join here.
There’s a structural difference here between how Roundabout and Carnegie handle discount tickets and how, say, TDF, Play-by-Play, and The Metropolitan Opera handle discount tickets. TDF, which is wonderful, offers $39-and-under tickets to Broadway shows, off-Broadway shows, dance, music, and off-off Broadway shows, to performing arts professionals, teachers, not-for-profit workers, and more (full list here). The fee is $25 per year. Play-by-Play offers complimentary tickets for $115 a year, like TDF, to shows that aren’t selling. While I’m thrilled Aliza and I can go see Jerusalem this weekend thanks to TDF, we did have to decide that we were going last minute, and we do know that we’re able to go because it’s not the kind of Broadway show tourists want to see on Fourth of July weekend. Rather than being seen as positive outreach for potential fans who couldn’t afford tickets, when they started discounting Spider-Man tickets in the fall, it made the news. The Metropolitan Opera offers the Varis and Karl Leichtman $25 weekend rush tickets, but the program doesn’t offer the long-term planning potential that HIPTIX and Notables do, and this creates a very different impression about how you care and think about your less-than-rich ticket buyers.
Of course, different organizations are trying to accomplish different things with their discount tickets. TDF, Play-by-Play and The Met fill houses week-of and day-of; theses sites don’t exist to build relationships between ticket buyers and Broadway houses, though I’m sure The Met does have many return discount ticket buyers. With the Carnegie Hall and Roundabout programs, my friends (/sister) and I can not only sit down and plan what we want to see over the course of a season, but we can potentially see anything we want to see for a very reasonable price. If you can’t pay the full price, sometimes you get the scraps. Fortunately for me, I often like the scraps, but as far as building loyalty to organizations? ((Are you ready for my big, cheesy finish?)) What Roundabout and Carnegie are doing? That’s the ticket!