You Paid How Much for That Ticket?

Email a Friend

→ Subscribe here to the Conducting Business Podcast

On June 4, Lincoln Center will open a new 112-seat theater that will feature work by emerging playwrights and directors and will do so at $20 a seat.

The Claire Tow Theater, a branch of Lincoln Center Theater, is one of a new series of such black-box theaters to open featuring emerging artists and low seat prices. In February, the Signature Theater opened its theater complex near the Port Authority Bus Terminal that includes a stage with tickets for $25. In September, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will open a small theater with tickets for $20.

These theaters are billed as an antidote to Broadway's soaring ticket prices as well as an attempt to cultivate younger, more diverse audiences. In this podcast we ask whether these pricing strategies can work, and what a savvy consumer should know before buying tickets for a cultural event.

"These price points in the $20 range are very much a public relations effort as well as the nitty-gritty of trying to get new audiences in," said Robin Pogrebin, a cultural reporter at the New York Times. "High art can be intimidating, there's a certain kind of audience that’s been coming, and they want to remove the barriers to coming to a Lincoln Center." 

The most expensive seats at an orchestra concert in New York routinely sell for $125 to $150 while the top opera tickets can go for twice that. And then there are Broadway shows: a seat for the smash hit "The Book of Mormon" averages $165 but can reach as high as $477. 

"The excessively high ticket prices have really hindered the development of younger artists," said Dean Budnick, the author of the book Ticket Masters. Patrons who shell out top dollar for a major performer have less money left over for an emerging artist, he added.

The affordably-priced new theaters join a number of existing discount options: rush tickets, open rehearsals, student seats and packages that act like gym memberships (pay a flat fee and get unlimited access).

Still, the nonprofit performing arts world has yet to fully tap into new marketing strategies, argues Budnick. "I'm waiting for a Priceline-like model," he said, referring to the "name your price" travel Web site. He added that, in the pop and rock world, Web sites like FanSnap allow audiences to comparative shop. "It seems perfectly logical that something like that would develop" for the performing arts.

As for the person who forks out $100 or more for an orchestra ticket, they're likely to be ones giving a standing ovation, said Christopher Stager, an orchestra marketing consultant. "It’s a validation of the price they paid rather than a reaction to the performance they just experienced." 

Listen to the full podcast above with the following guests:

Dean Budnick, author of Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped

Robin Pogrebin, a cultural reporter for the New York Times

Christopher Stager, a marketing consultant who works with orchestras and performing arts organizations including the recent Spring for Music festival (of which WQXR was a broadcast partner)

Weigh in: Where do you look for cheap ticket deals? Do you feel concert tickets are overpriced? Leave your comments below: