Sure you get a refund if an above-the-title star is out, but what about . . .

Although it’s not a publicized policy (and why isn’t it again?), if a star that is billed above-the-title in a Broadway show is out due to illness, vacation or a b.s. claim of mercury poisoning, a ticket holder is entitled to a full refund or exchange.

But in today’s social media-infused world, a chorus boy could have more twitter followers than an above-the-title star, and could have quite the die-hard fan girl following.  What happens when one of our avid Broadway theatergoers buys a ticket to a show to see that chorus boy, or that chorus girl, or a certain actor playing a secondary character, and that actor is out.  Do we offer them a refund?

No.  Or more appropriately . . . NEIN!

This isn’t a hypothetical situation, by the way.  I got an email recently from a young lady who bought tickets to see a certain Tony Award winning musical for the 4th time, just because she wanted to see a specific replacement actor in a small role – because she had followed him for years.  He was out, and she was out $140 smackeroos.  And this was a girl who had seen the show three times already!

Isn’t she the type we should be rewarding, not penalizing?

Why are we drawing the line above the title?  If you buy a ticket to see a specific element of that production and that element doesn’t appear, shouldn’t you get some recompense?

Ok, maybe you shouldn’t get a refund (our business, like our perishable inventory sister biz, the airline industry, might spring a leak with an open refund policy), but what’s the harm in an exchange?

Especially when you are not getting what you paid for?

Instead, it has been our policy to send the audience member home with a feeling of disappointment, or worse, the feeling of, “Next time I won’t buy my tickets in advance . . . I’ll just wait until the last minute to make sure everyone that I want to see is in the show that day.”

If any cast member is out, we should allow an exchange.

Wait a minute.  That’s not what I wanted to say at all.  Now that I think about it . . .

For any reason, whatsoever, we should allow an exchange.

The no refunds/no exchange policy is a thing of the 70s.  It’s time we join the rest of the best retailers in the world . . . and it’s time we lead the way in the entertainment industry (wouldn’t that be a change – us leading the way), and offer exchanges for our customers when they want one.

We ask them to risk so much when they buy that ticket.  It’s time we reduced that risk just a smidge.

And maybe they’ll reward us for buying more often . . . and more in advance.

 

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Comments
  • Lynn Anderson says:

    Agreed! We bought tickets to see Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones in “A Little Night Music”, and Ms. Lansbury (who rarely misses a performance) was out ill. We still enjoyed the show and her replacement – however, an exchange would have been nice, to finally meet one of the all-time greats of the theatre!

  • senorvoce says:

    Oy, such a bad idea! Let’s count the ways:

    1. Who’s on the hook for parking, dinner and the babysitter? That’s what they all want when there is a star absence. Give them an inch and they’ll hang you with it.

    2. What about rainy days or threats of snow? Any reason is a good reason when a specific reason is allowed.

    3. Do the shows costs decrease when a chorus member is out? If the exchanged ticket goes unsold, you’ve reduced your gross that performance.

    4. The box office never knows who is scheduled to go on at any give show (neither do the websites). They can NEVER know when someone is going to go on. Making it part of the purchasing transaction is so wrongheaded, it is darn near insane.

    5. Clogging the window with exchanges for chorus subs at curtain time is a VERY bad idea.

    6. Call it what it is. A refund. The new date chosen, especially on a new and poorly reviewed show, would be the furthest out date on sale, chosen by a canny ticket holder that knows the show will likely close before that date comes.

    Stop worrying about this sort of meaningless minutia. Does Book of Mormon ever have anyone want a refund because a minor player is out? Of course not. Put on compelling shows and poof!, the “problem” is solved.

    • senorvoce says:

      Oh yes, what about TKTS, TDF , comps, or other discounts offered during the week that aren’t necessarily available on a Saturday night, which, surprise!, happens to be the only night the customer wants to exchange into?

      Fuhgeddaboudit!

      • Jason Epperson says:

        Tickets from 3rd party vendors should not be exchangeable. It can be another reason to encourage someone to purchase full-price.

      • senorvoce says:

        Oopsie!

        One more idea killer. Open exchanges make it a field day for scalpers. They may then exchange unsold tickets with impunity, without any fear of getting stuck with unsold tickets. No last minute desperation sales!

  • Brandon says:

    If this is to be a policy than I think productions will have to start announcing up to the minute changes when replacements go in. Do any of the shows let audience members know of these changes on facebook or their production websites?

    You also bring up some decent points about twitter followers and how a chorus boy could have a larger fan following than a name, but I have yet to see twitter and or facebook fans directly correlate with buying power. Many people are happy enough to follow or like, but when it comes to putting pen to paper few actually come through.

    I really think you bring up a few interesting questions and conversations.

    Cheers,
    Brandon

  • Jason Epperson says:

    I’m a big believer in exchanges. They do usually pay a service fee for an exchange. Our published policy is:

    All Sales are final. Unless the performance is cancelled, no refunds will be given. Most shows will perform in inclement weather as long as it is safe to do so. We understand that things come up, and in many situations, we may be able to exchange tickets to another performance of the same production. The management will make the final decision on all exchanges, but the following guidelines will generally apply: The exchange must be made on or before the date of the originally scheduled performance. We do not have the ability to make exchanges after the show you were to attend has begun. We cannot make exchanges on tickets purchased through discount outlets. Exchanges to earlier dates are almost always acceptable. Exchanges that involve purchasing additional tickets are almost always acceptable. We can not exchange into certain performances, particularly if there is low inventory available. Any discounts that were applied to the original purchase must be valid for the new performance, or the difference must be paid. Exchanges into higher priced seating sections or performance dates must pay the difference. If a performance is cancelled, we will offer you the option to move to another performance or a full refund. If you purchased tickets in the last 24 hours and made a mistake, call us right away and we can generally correct the mistake for no fee.

  • Nancy brown says:

    I totally agree, Ken!

  • Leonardo says:

    I think this is brilliant. Broadway producers should become more creative and innovative when it comes to these “traditional” practices. In theory the “no refunds or exchanges” is there to protect the producer’s money but in cases like the one you just showed, it can actually hurt the production by scaring away loyal audience members who go to the same show multiple times. I was a repeat audience member for shows like Spring Awakening, Next to Normal and Hair and it would have been nice if there had been some added incentives (audience rewards, point systems, etc.). I know there are lotteries, student rush and general rush but… what else is out there? There must be a new approach waiting to be discovered.

  • Mark Barbash says:

    This blog on what happens when someone other than the star is out of a a show is right on the point. Following the career of young performers is one of the great pleasures of being addicted to musicals. Sometimes they have a long career (my favorite in this category is Peter Lockyer, who is now in the London Les Miz). Then other times, they decide to get out of the business (Kirk McDonald), and others just disappear. But you are right: We do go to some shows to see particular performers. Thanks.

  • Bruce says:

    Now let’s see you put it into practice with your next show.

    • Jared says:

      Thank you!! I didn’t want to be the one to say it, because I appreciate what Ken tries to do with his blogs and with his shows. But it is a little odd to me that he has all these suggestions of different ways to do business in his blogs that he doesn’t implement in his shows. I don’t know if its a problem with him not being able to get other producers to sign off on it or what, but it’s hard to take his suggestions seriously when he is actually in a better position than most to implement them yet doesn’t do so.

      Ken’s philosophy seems to be that you can’t know until you try, and that innovation is necessary to keep up with the times. So why can’t Ken be the one to innovate?

  • Donald Jordan says:

    When we err on the side of customer service, we hardly ever err! While there would have to be some regulation to avoid those who would take advantage, offering a free exchange (or even one with a nominal exchange fee for the service) would be most appreciated. People get sick, work late, miss a train, have a flat, etc….in a world where patrons can get 200 channels of cable fora month for the prce of a ticket to a two hour show, and sit at home to watch it without the hassle of parking, over priced concessions, etc. we need to remember to keep making the experience BETTER for our patrons. We are there to serve them, not the other way around.

  • Ken says:

    I would buy more tickets if broadway was no so great a gamble.

  • Ilene aargento says:

    I think the exchange/refund for above the title stars (we exchanged when Kristin Chenoweth was out sick, shockingly enough, for a performance of Promises, Promises), but you could really hurt the bottom line by exchanging for any reason. Many ticket sites now let you by insurance (I think just for audience member issue, not cast issue).

    If you’re really brave, you could offer a refund or credit for a future show (but whose?) for those not pleased with the show. Yes, people are plopping down a lot of money for tix these days, but chaos will ensue if anyone can exchange at last minute for any reason. You’d end up with empty seats that may not have been empty if they were available by the person not buying in the first place (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean!).

    And, with the one show one theatre setup in NYC, vs ‘seasons’ in L.A., what could someone late in the run exchange FOR? If no performances are convenient, could someone get a refund because the actor playing the tree for 2 minutes in act 2 couldn’t make it on? Slippery slope.

  • Jeffrey says:

    Fortunately, I’ve yet to see a cancelled performance of a “star-billed” show, but, I do think the no exchange/ no refund policy is asinine and archaic across the board…

    With most {off} Broadway theatre companies, if you’re a member or subscriber, [my experience has been that] you can request an exchange for another date, as long as the performance has seats. I find that OvationTix is generally accommodating as well… But, not always…

    I do like to purchase my tix in advance, as it sets my schedule, but, since I’m the guardian of my [disabled] brother, things arise, and unfortunately I’ve missed out on several shows because of this… If I were “smart” enough to leave the tickets at the box office or purchased E-tickets, I have had a better shot of having someone take my place or getting a refund, but, that doesn’t always work last minute…

    Things happen in life, performers get ill, or maybe I just don’t like the show {like, I didn’t enjoy “Phantom”, although, since one of my faves, Norm Lewis, whom I’ve taken a pic with, when he was in “Porgy”, took over the lead role, I may give the musical another chance}, but, refunds, or the very least, exchanges, should be granted…
    Maybe that policy will change one day…

  • Yosi Merves says:

    I think exchanges for unforseen cast absences, with a process in place to make the exchange outside of the pre-curtain window, would be very helpful to increase morale and show loyalty among real Broadway fans. If someone has already seen the show once or twice, they are most likely only going to return again because of a particular cast combination, not just one “star”.

  • Barry says:

    Bravo! Others point out limitations…but yours is a customer-first idea.

  • Walt Frasier says:

    I totally agree. Especially if that consumer was willing to pay full price via box office or online. That is a guest you want to come back. When I buy discount via TKTS or other liquidator, I am just looking for a cheap ticket to be entertained for a couple hours.

    When there is a specific artist I want to see and willing to pay top dollar for that artist, i want to see that artist.

    I hate refunds – as a producer and consumer. Money exchanges are always messy and awkward no matter how justified…

    But I love to say “here is a voucher to come back and see the show anytime.” Promotes good vibes and repeat business.

    Buy backs at bars have kept regulars in local dives for years. I was directing a high school theater program around 2001/2002 when one of my students said she had seen Rent 80+ times. Every week she and a friend stood in line for rush tickets. I am guessing she saw the show 100+ times before in closed. She only paid $20/ticket but she alone was probably a better investment then any marketing campaign. She paid $2000+ to be the biggest word of mouth campaign for any show I have ever seen.

  • Laurent says:

    Years ago, when I had friends in Les Mis on Broadway, their company manager once told them, “Sure, if someone walked up to the box office and saw that you (ensemble member) were out that night, I would refund their money or ask them to return the next night.” And I’ve always thought it should be that way. The theatre is a multi person art form and therefore audiences may very well be attending for the lighting or costume designer’s work not just the “Name above the title’s” work. Thanks for bringing up this point.

  • Sarah says:

    LCT recently allowed me to cancel my ticket for City of Conversation when Jan Maxwell was out. She was not above the title, and I absolutely went back to see the show when I knew she was in.

  • Don Knuuttila says:

    Bravo, Ken! Bravo! I couldn’t agree with you more. We are avid theater goers and will oftentimes go see a show in previews then go back during the run. And, we purchase premium seats; two to be exact. We had tickets to opening night (well, err.. there were some troubles in the theater) of previews for Evita. My husband had bronchitis. I called the theater and even went down there and both answers were the same – a flat out No! Or as you put it, NEIN! I wasn’t looking for a refund. I was looking for tickets for a different performance when my husband could actually enjoy it (little did we realize that the production was poorly cast and sub par). We paid over $600 for two tickets. We go to a B’way show at least 6 times a year and as much if not more to off-B’way shows.

    I have spent my entire career as a marketing and operations professional in the tourism industry and I get it. I learned what solid customer service looks like while working at Walt Disney World for 12 years. As a matter of fact, I was a supervisor in their Guest Relations Department for 5 years and was a segment facilitator for one of their professional development programs, “Disney’s Approach to Quality Service.” Executives from corporations around the world came to see how Disney created the world-class customer experiences.

    Now, why do I tell you this? Because my eye is keen and I can see how badly trained theater staff are and how they simply do not get the “big picture.” I’m shelling out a pocketful of cash, I at least deserve to be treated courteously and efficiently. Unfortunately, customer service seems to be left out of the big picture by producers and theater owners.

    I receive your emails regularly and I see hope – at least for your productions. But, it’s a coordinated effort between producer’s and theater owners and their staffs to make sure each and every guest is treated with courtesy and respect. (BTW… Not a sales pitch, but I am in the process of developing a customer service training program that would be customized to each venue/business.) Give me a shout if you want to discuss customer service. It’s a true passion of mine!

    Best regards,

    Don

  • Jane says:

    The Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN has a no-penalty exchange policy. For this New Yorker trekking out to see a special show (“The Red Box”, which by the way, was fabulous!) , it made the decision to buy tickets easy – if my schedule changed, I knew I wasn’t screwed. Meanwhile, the theatre had the cash in hand. Every theatre should do this.

  • Lawrence Starr says:

    So, are you going to be the first to offer exchangeable tickets for your productions? I would support such a move.

  • Debbie Klaar says:

    Absolutely there should be an exchange policy. Life happens! Broadway needs to get on the stick. I can understand the no refund policy but audiences should be able to exchange. You can exchange a plane ticket (for a small fee) so why not THEATRE?!

  • Joanne says:

    Keep the service charge but exchange and/or refund the ticket….it’s the fair thing to do. You paid for a “product” which you are now NOT getting for whatever reason. You should be allowed as such.
    But of course, the tkt office has the right to keep the service fee, as that indeed was rendered.

  • pat says:

    I had a problem with “Anything Goes”. Mother was coming to town and she really really wanted to see her favorite Sutton Foster dance to Cole Porter. Over a month in advance I bought full price tickets. The week of the show Sutton took a vacation and Stephanie J. Block (a talented actress) was stepping in. Mother wanted Sutton and wouldn’t be here when she returned, I asked for my money back (not an exchange) and they flatly refused. And horribly rude about it. A “Stars” name was above the title (not the star I paid to see) I was told so tough.I got a number for the theater owners from the box office and after making a scene in the lobby as people were coming in, the guy on the phone said they will refund the credit charge. Telling that to the box office, the credit card machine suddenly went “down” and I would have to return the next day.I did (coming from westchester twice) and in two seconds got credit. But what a nightmare they made out of it..

  • Jared says:

    I agree the exchange policy probably needs to be more lenient. I understand theatre has a perishable inventory, so I get why we can’t just offer blanket refunds. But I really don’t see why, if there are seats available for a different performance, an exchange can’t be offered for a fee, because life does happen. Last summer I went to the box office to buy two tickets to see “Pippin,” and the woman in front of me was asking about exchanging her tickets because her husband was sick and couldn’t even get out of bed that day, so he couldn’t use his ticket. She didn’t want a refund, she just wanted to come back in a couple of weeks to see the show when they could both enjoy it. She was given a flat no, and left looking very dejected.

    That kind of experience would make anyone think twice before buying tickets to another show. And that doesn’t help anyone. If you can exchange because an above the title star is out sick, you should be able to exchange when you’re sick. A more lenient exchange policy (again, even with a fee) may also help increase box office in the notoriously hard to sell winter months, when weather and illness are common unpredictable factors that can keep even the most well-intentioned patrons from seeing the show.

  • senorvoce says:

    Sadly, people lie. Every story, every variation of those stories, and every excuse is claimed as a reason to exchange seats.

    These visions of free and easy exchanges are simply unworkable.

  • Thomas says:

    While I hear all these points I am on the fence.

    1 Working in theatre I know we plan for illness, injury and vacations. Although the performer you want to see may not be in the show that night, there is someone in that role. I take great care to make my understudies/covers/standbys feel like their performances are just as important as the playing company member. If you choose not to see the understudy we prepared that is on you. It should not be the responsibility of the producers to appease who you want to see. They are producing a product, a show as a whole. Whatever happened to the “A Star is Born” hope ever understudy has? We are cheating those performers.

    2 If a patron is sick, you should absolutely be granted an exchange. The last thing we need is someone hacking in the audience.

    I read the post about the patrons who wanted to see Sutton Foster and got Stephanie Block instead. I say to you: That is why you come to the theatre. If you want to see specific performers that is called a movie.

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