House seats shouldn’t be on the house.


Every show on Broadway holds a certain number of seats offsale to the general public called “house seats”. They are reserved for the authors, producers, cast, theater owners, etc. and are generally released 48 hours prior to each performance if not used.

(Ticket buying tip: if you’re looking for great seats to any show, go to the box office 2 days prior to the performance you want to attend looking for any house seat releases.)

It is also industry standard to allow other people in the industry, from agents to ad agencies, to purchase house seats, even if they aren’t working on that specific show (i.e. I can have my assistant call for house seats to The Little Mermaid).

When I started out, each GM office had a “house seat hotline” that was open from 3 – 5 PM, Monday to Friday, and anyone could call and purchase great seats to any show at regular prices with no service fee. There was even a way to hold these tickets on a “48 hour hold” which reserved the tickets, didn’t obligate you to buy them, and if you didn’t purchase them, they were just let go 2 days prior as previously discussed.

We’ve gone to email and fax now, so house seat requests can come in 24 hours a day. And believe me, on hot shows like South Pacific, they do. Every friend of a friend knows someone who works somewhere close to Broadway and wants a couple of tickets to the hottest show around.

House seats are a job that sometimes falls to the Assistant Company Manager, but many times, a person in the General Manager’s office assumes the responsibility.

You know what that means?

It means that house seats cost shows money. The GM has to put someone on salary. In triplicate house seat forms are created. Phone calls, faxes, mistakes. Money, money and time and money.

Should we get rid of house seats? No. But why not add a service fee to offset the costs and inconvenience?

If we charged $5/order to the people that had no connection to the show (I’m not suggesting that we charge those that work on the show), we could pay for the staff member and expenses associated with house seats.

And what if the buyer didn’t want to pay? Well, then they can call telecharge like anyone else. I hear the same locations would go for double regular price. But something tells me that just like the $1 comps, the buyers would suck it up and pay.

I’m all for being nice to the people in my industry. But I’m all for being nice to my investors first.

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  • Chris says:

    Even better than charging a little more, this seems like something that could be very easily automated by a computer. Why not set up a Ticketmaster/Telecharge-esque system that automatically helps you do ticket bookings? The computer works 24/7 so that’s covered. It prevents you from double booking seats. And then if people decided they didn’t want a seat after-all, they could just log back into the computer program and relinquish the tickets. They’d be given to the next person in queue or released to the general public. I’m sure that’s not totally fool-proof and it might require a slight re-working of the traditional process, but that would certainly save you from having to make a staff person do it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Why are house seats priced the same as regular orchestra seats in the era of premium seats? House seats are premium locations that the producer sells for the regular orchestra price. Doesn’t that make them discounted premium seats?
    Another problem is the opportunity cost. A hit show holds a predetermined number of the best seats off of sale, a number which may or may not be the number they need to satify all the legitimate requests; how many shows need the same number of house seats on a Wednesday Matinee or Evening as they do for a Saturday night? The excess are then released at 48 or 96 hours. Now everyone who buys within two days of the performance gets a better seat than those who bought in advance, and many people who wanted to buy in advance did not because they did not like the seats that were available. Now those who are the least flexible as to when they want to see the show get the best seats and those who would have ordered in advance but were picky about the seat locations did not. There is the opportunity cost: the sales lost while more seats were held than were needed.
    Lastly, the show is holding seats off of sale for the convenience of friends and family, family of friends, friends of family, friends of friends,the dentist of friends, or the chirpractor of family, etc. Maybe those people should not pay the premium price but should not at least some of them pay more than the regular orchestra price and pay it in a way so it goes to the investors and creatives, as part of the ticket price?

  • I like your thinking on this subject. House seats shouldn’t always be free for the folks involved in the production either. Contractual commitments aside, perks to the insiders cost the investors money too. Producers need to think carefully about the commitments they make, and their comps policies in general.
    It seems to me that if seats (other than the best seats in the house) are going to go unsold for a particular performance, then they can be comp’d or sold at a small price to the insiders for their family/friends… but there must be limits.. right?
    As for service charges… there are insiders who abuse the privilege. Charging them service fees on every ticket above a certain threshold might help too.

  • Wild Bird says:

    As someone who has taken advantage of house seats a time or two I would be happy to fork over a sur charge…as long as it doesn’t go to TicketMaster!
    Re: the computer program mentioned in the comment before mine. It’s an intriguing idea. I wonder what the cost outlay would be to design and then implement the program. It sounds like something the league could sponsor and then recoup once it opens.

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