You’re young. You’re broke.

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!

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  1. Rebecca Davis says

    Love! I had no idea about these programs (I thought Notables was just about the parties). I agree its smart to cultivate not just the broke population, but those audience members who may not qualify as strictly broke, but still don’t have discretionary income to spend face-value ticket prices on entertainment around town (its certainly why I don’t go to as many non-work-related shows as I might like). Thanks Amanda.

  2. says

    Great article, Amanda! (as always!)
    I have long lamented, though, that I at that “awkward age”. Too old for student and young-people’s programs. Too young for senior discounts. And yet as a freelancer in New York City, I don’t have the disposable income to pay full price to attend non-work shows.
    What’s a Tweener to do?

  3. Sasha H says

    The organization I work for (Marin Theatre Company in CA) offers $20 tickets and $120 6-play sub packages to U-30s (that’s me! for two more months anyways…). While we’re a little out of the way (over the Golden Gate from SF on a stretch with no public transit after 8PM) and in an area with a low young adult population (the telling stat: highest median income county in CA, #20 in the US), we still get a small group of loyal U-30 patrons that takes advantage of the discounts. This number balloons with certain shows (yes, West Coast premiere of McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water; no, Chekov’s Seagull). How are other organizations marketing to, well, us!

  4. says

    You should also check out the Toronto Symphony’s tsoundcheck program (the T is silent!) here is an article from the Globe and Mail

    Here at the Royal Conservatory we offer $10 rush seats (no service fees) for every concert we present regardless if the show is selling well. Depending on each concert’s popularity we adjust the location of the seats. Tickets are not just for the young & broke but for everyone.

  5. says

    Great post Amanda! And equally nice to see the other programs mentioned by your commenters. I’ll add mine to the list for brainstorming:

    Here in Philadelphia we’ve had great success when we make a commitment to the “young friends” community in a way that is more than just asking them to fill in empty seats. The results are heartening and beneficial to all of us.

    Our program ( of the last two years allows students to buy an unlimited pass to all of our 65 concerts for just $30. With that pass they can reserve real seated tickets to any event, just like normal patrons. Front row seat to a nearly sold out recital by Mitsuko Uchida? Sure. Two tickets to the Eric Owens recital in February? They can be ordered months in advance.

    The key for us seems not to be parties (we don’t do any) or even money (although that certainly makes it an easy purchase decision). They key the flexibility that a membership option allows, in combination with the “real” feel of the patron experience. These students feel like adults when they utilize the program, not just beneficiaries of a subsidy that is more of an afterthought or last-ditch attempt to fill seats.

    We found that student attendance increased dramatically (60% year to year), but so did revenue – by 100% the first year and again the second year. While we’re not talking huge dollar figures, it was actually easier for me to get students to pay than the write a grant to get a subsidy. Go figure!

    This year we roll it out to young people who are not students. If you are 35 or under and not a student, the same benefits cost $60 per year. Should be interesting to see how we can continue developing future generations of audiences while also maintaining our bottom line…..

  6. says

    Just to add more examples to the discussion: Last year Symphony Space initiated a $15 Under-30 ticket program (for all of the events we present), which has been tremendously successful. In particular, it has started changing the demographic balance of our Literature programs — Selected Shorts, Thalia Book Club, Bloomsday — which traditionally attract a somewhat older audience. Of course, we have been paying close attention to the programs’ content, as well. If the program doesn’t appeal to younger audience members, you can’t pay them to come!