Rant alert: Stop telling me you can’t afford theater tickets!

I was teasing an industry friend of mine the other day who shall remain nameless (although I am biting my fingertips right now–I so want to type it) because he hadn’t seen Miss Abigail’s Guide . . . yet.  I was actually going to let him off the hook when he pulled me aside and said, “Ken, listen, in all seriousness, I am going through a tough time right now . . . and I haven’t seen ANY theater because frankly, I just can’t afford it.”

My first thought?  Pity.  When someone says, “I can’t afford it,” about anything, your heart goes out to them, right?  It’s the ultimate out.

But I had a theory, and I decided to test it out.

“NAMELESS PERSON,” I said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Ken.”

“Have you seen a movie in the last month?”

“Well, yes, I have.”

“Have you seen more than one movie in the last month?”

“I’ve seen two.”

“Ahhh, I see.  But you can’t afford the theater, right?  You just spent at least $25 on movie tickets.  You know about TDF, right?  You know about 20at20, right, where you can see shows for $20?”

He didn’t answer.

I could have pressed on . . . “Did you have popcorn when you were at the movies?  Oh, and do you drink Starbucks?  Watch Netflix?”

But the point wasn’t to embarass him . . . the point was to demonstrate how the problem isn’t price.  The problem is value.

Here was a theater person, who was claiming that theater tickets were too expensive . . . who chose to go to the movies instead.  The movies were of a greater value to him.

And that’s our problem.

There are cheap ways to see theater.  Period.  And people who can’t find $20, $30, $50 or yes, even $120 to see a show don’t value the experience enough to work at finding that money.  (And please, don’t challenge me to say that you’re different and you really don’t have even $20 to see a show, because I will come to your house and do an audit on your life and find $20 somewhere, I promise.)

And if theater folks won’t work at finding those extra few bucks, how are we going to get ordinary folks to do it?

So the next time you find yourself saying “Theater tickets are too expensive,” stop yourself.  Man up and admit it.  Say, “I don’t find enough value in going to the theater.”

If we admit the problem, maybe we’ll come closer to a solution.

– – – – –


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  • Jamie B says:

    I totally agree with you! I’m a struggling freelance videographer/photographer. I LOVE THEATER. It’s one of the main reasons I moved here. I’ve been here 2 years and I’ve seen 60+ shows. I want to see shows so I find a way. I use tdf & lottos. I’ve networked my butt off to meet people with connections to comps. Last year, I saw 30 shows and only paid about $450 bucks totally. It always annoys me when people say they can’t afford to see shows…. nope, they are just lazy!

  • Alex Jorth says:

    I would love to have someone come audit my life and find me some extra cash… that sounds great!! 😉
    I agree with the value concept, and it also extends within the theater category itself … we still have to choose which shows are worth whatever money we can come up with for theater-going. It can be a tough task living in NYC with SO many options from Broadway, off-Broadway and beyond.

  • elan says:

    I agree, I often can’t afford theatre tickets for all of us, for the best seats in the house, but my kids know all about getting the best deals, rush seats & student discounts & we choose to see theatre, I haven’t seen a movie in a year, we (collectively) see at least 5 shows a month in our house.

  • As a singer/actor auditioning in NYC I can barely afford rent sometimes – but I find a way to see shows. I moved here in January and I’ve been able to see a handful of shows so far. No – I can’t afford to go see the big Broadway blockbusters. But I see what I’m able to see. So far I’ve seen
    Spidermusical (off-bway, $18)
    Nightmare Alley (off-bway reading, $18)
    Kerrigan-Lowdermilk’s You Made This Tour/NewMusicalTheatre.com concert (Canal Room, discounted $15)
    Fantasy Football (NYU, gypsy dress rehearsal)
    Drowsy Chaperone (Gallery Players-Brooklyn, gypsy dress rehearsal)
    Rain (Broadway, $5)
    Jim Caruso’s CAST PARTY at Town Hall ($25 VERY back row)
    AND for tonite, we splurged! Been saving my shekels for this one since the day it was announced:
    Hello Again (off-bway, $53 premium seats)
    And, no, I don’t go see movies in the theater. Its rare that I do. Pretty much I go see the Harry Potter films in the theater – otherwise its just not worth it to me.
    As for Starbucks – yes, I do treat myself to a Starbucks coffee and a blueberry muffin on audition days – its part of my ‘process’. For some reason I always audition better when I do – I don’t know why – maybe its the anti-oxidents in the blueberries LOL! Otherwise its Foldgers French Vanilla in the mornings 🙂

  • Joe says:

    First, in a country where 1 in 5 children are living in poverty, the “I can find an extra $20 in your budget” is a gross generalization. Maybe you can find the $20 in your blog readers’ budgets, but that is a tiny number of potential theatregoers.
    Second, how easy is it to get a $20 ticket? 20@20 asks me to line up outside in the dead of winter for a chance – not guaranteed – to get a ticket to an off or off-off Broadway show. Not terribly appealing, if you ask me. I’d rather go to a multiplex cinema, where I know I’ll get into something.
    $30 tickets? Where? Lining up for two hours before a show – as a student – for a lottery seat? Again, doesn’t sound fun to me, and I actually LIKE going to the theatre.
    $40 tickets, maybe on TDF – but that won’t include booking fees. It’s really $45. Not out of the realm of possibility, but it is the same as my Con Ed bill for the month.
    $75 tickets are readily available, that’s for sure. And here’s where the value question becomes more interesting. Let me take my family of four to a show for $300, excluding dinner, parking, etc. Those $75 seats aren’t going to be the best seats, for sure. We’ll probably be on the side. Or upstairs. $300 for not great seats to a show. Hmmm.
    $125 tickets? Those aren’t hard to find. No discount codes, no secret passwords. Maybe even a decent seat, if I am willing to search. But I will pay another $25 in fees, unless I go to the box office. And for my family of four, it’s the cost of a 42″ HD television.
    And, ultimately, it’s rare that I think a $125 ticket is good VALUE. If I absolutely love the show, yes. But we all know that there’s not many of those. And that’s why those tickets aren’t purchased by me or anyone else that I know. Tourists and the wealthy are the prime demographic for those.
    The reality is: the theatre is NOT good value, pretty much compared with any other form of entertainment. That’s why the audiences are shrinking. Not because we can’t find the money, or the desire – it’s just that we can’t always find enough of either, or the right combination of the two.
    I don’t think it’s that I don’t value the theatre, Ken – I think it doesn’t value me.

  • Joewmarshall says:

    In my opinion, also eliminate the “comp” especially
    industry “comps”! The Press should support the arts—buy a Ticket! In addition, I get very tired of actors that play the ” I’m broke” card–but spend a night at the “Bar” buying $10.00 Martinis!!

  • Joewmarshall says:

    Imagine walking into a department store and saying to the owner –can I take this shirt..please?

  • Tom Atkins says:

    If you’re visiting London and you’re on your own, you can pretty much rock up to ANY West End theatre and get a very decent seat for £15-20. The same price you’d have to pay to see a fringe show. I think it’s a bargain.

  • Doug Hicton says:

    I live two doors away from a repertory cinema that charges $6 per ticket, and I generally have something to eat before I go to a movie if I’m hungry.
    Beat that.

  • Tanya says:

    Also agree… I’m a musical theatre student living in London, ergo I don’t have much cash to spare. I am lucky enough to have a decently-paid front of house job which does allow me to see more theatre BUT I work theatre hours so finding time is an issue. It really *really* upsets me that I see more theatre than anyone else on my course when technically I have the least time to do so. They also moan that they can’t afford it, but the West End is very efficient with student and equity discounts so they have no excuse! Also just simple networking, as Jamie B pointed out: even the simplest things like being Twitter-savvy can get you comps because if you follow the right people, there’s always someone with a spare ticket to something. I also had the good fortune of making friend’s with someone who works at a production company for new writing here and in exchange for a couple of hours flyering or selling CDs at a concert I get a free ticket to the show… If you care enough it’s really not hard to find a way to see theatre!

  • Paul says:

    Sometimes people can’t afford it. I slept in a homeless shelter last night. Not everyone is “lazy.” Unemployment is skyrocketing in New York and tons of places are on a hiring freeze. Sometimes a set of bad circumstances turns your life in a place you didn’t expect it to go.
    That being said, I’ve still managed to win some comps in a contest, and if I do splurge you can bet it will be on theater, but no I don’t see movies and my dinner was had at a shelter. So, to some of the commenters, please don’t be so generic and judgmental. Each person’s financial situation is different.

  • Dear Ken, thank you for your story! Unfortunately, there are people everywhere in the world with an excuse “I can’t afford to see a show” – for example, here in my home country Bulgaria, theatre ticket cost less than a movie ticket (to be specific around 10.00 BG Leva which is less than $10.00) and some people still prefer to spend them on something else…In my country this situation is bringing some theatres to close their doors permanently because most of them are Government fund based and if they can’t confirm sales, have no other chance than close. But that’s a different story…I hope by the time I learn how to become a director and producer in the US, my country will go back to our old values!!!
    I’m surprised the friend you mentioned is an “industry person” and please allow me to share with you my story – an Eastern European girl who move to New York to study Musical Theatre from a small town in the small country Bulgaria which used to see at least one Theatre show per WEEK.
    Dan Daily who was my Acting teacher at AMDA New York used to give us a questionnaire every Monday asking which show we have seen during the past week. Dan Daily used to tell us “If you don’t see at least one show per week, what for you moved to New York? You better move back to where you come from! There are many ways to see a show – volunteer as an usher, do the lottery and get a $25 ticket two hours prior the show or simply enter the second act, just dress nicely!”
    I confirm there is NO excuse you can’t afford theatre and for an “industry person” is absolutely unacceptable!!! I realized the learning experience of seeing live theatre in NYC once a week – first I start saving from lip gloss and perfumes, so I can afford Broadway tickets with good seats, soon I applied as a volunteer usher and I was lucky to obtain at the same time my US work permit – I got accepted as a FOH assistant at the Nederlander where I still work proudly – I met legendary people like Arthur Laurents, Tony winner Karen Olivo and I learned even more than in my Conservatory!!! I believe we should have more teachers like Dan Daily – becoming an “industry person” is a combination of vocation, hard work, determination and motivation which only a good mentor can give you! I love your blog. Thank you!

  • Jennifer says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! You are ABSOLUTELY right on the money with this one.

  • Ofluca1 says:

    There is this great campaign for off-Broadway shows that I keep a look out for. Actually, you can sign up for the email. Its through http://www.8coupons.com and they have $8 tickets to off-Broadway shows. Right now they have two shows campaigning for $8 tickets – Reading Under The Influence at The DR2 in Union Sq & The Accidental Pervert in the West Village. I’ve seen a few others like The Irish Curse, Naked Boys Singing, Toxic Avenger Musical, Abe Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party, and others. Pretty good deal as a whole and they don’t put huge restrictions on these, but they are limited for certain performances.

  • ofluca1 says:

    So there are affordable options available for theatre-goers, albeit you have to really be patient and if you enjoy the experience of the theatre then you would make it a priority to see what you can afford. Now, in light of Ken’s friend (or former friend now probably) perhaps he just didn’t want to see Miss Abigail’s Guide, so this friend found the most obvious excuse to avoid a bigger confrontation. It’s my belief that although VALUE does come first in almost anything which involves paying for something, if a person wants to see a show almost as badly as they’d like to win money, then they’ll figure out a way to make it happen.

  • FamilyMan says:

    On a short vacation to NYC, my children (all girls 7, 9, 11) had a Broadway Musical as their #1 attraction. You see, they are heavily involved in a drama & musical theatre program at home and all consider themselves “performers” in our hometown.

    I committed to taking them to The Lion King, knowing it would be the most expensive thing we would do in NYC – but floored when I found out the cheapest tickets were about $150 – that’s $750 for our family, which was too expensive for this regular American family. We will goto TKTS tomorrow and see if we can get in or ask around for better deals at the box office right before the show, but even 50% off ($375) is out of our budget.

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  • Cornfed Hick says:

    You, my dear friend, are an elitist asshole. Going to see a Broadway musical is not always as simple as finding a Jackson and waltzing into a theatre. People have take into account transportation as well (taking a bus to the city from upstate NY is pretty gosh darn expensive) and a lot of people can not afford to take the time off work to take care of their children, much less take them to the theatre.

  • Epiphany says:

    That is such an elitist fuckin attitude. While a part of it has to do with priorities how dare you say you know people’s situation enough to say you could find something they could cut out of their lives for theatre?
    I dare you to find something of less intrinsic value in my life that I could let go.

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