You Paid How Much for That Ticket?

In Search for New Audiences, Arts Organizations Slash -- And Raise -- Ticket Prices

Monday, May 21, 2012

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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:

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Comments [4]

carol abrams

It is a great idea to have the younger generation to see and hear programs other than dance with the Stars and hip hop music shows. however if the young folks parsed their drinking money they would be able to buy the student rush tickets with out further assistance. Do not forget the older generation who are living on a fixed income and not able to get the "student rush tickets.

May. 26 2012 12:56 PM
Nick from Philadelphia, PA

I couldn't agree more with this. I am a student in Philadelphia and a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra's eZseatU program where students pay a one time a year fee of $25 and get access to unlimited concerts. I am so enthusiastic I now represent the orchestra on my school's campus (Drexel university) and try to get more college students to sign up because it's such a great deal. I hope to find it elsewhere as college students (the up-and-coming artists, playwrights, and quality music fans) need to be exposed to this art and for that to happen it must be moderately priced. I think more programs like this should be implemented elsewhere

May. 22 2012 04:30 PM
Tom Castner from LIC NY

These lower priced venues are an excellent attempt to attract more people to see live performances. There is nothing cheap about the concept or the prices. There are no cheap performances, as some Grand Drama Institute Poobah from New Jersey has here suggesed. Performances are good or bad, excellent or god-awful, astonishing or discombobulated, boring or sometimes life changing. The more people who can afford to go and decide for themselves, the better.

May. 21 2012 11:38 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

CHEAP TICKETS may be a slogan for theater goers, but it implies cheap performances. Germany, Great Britain and Austria have a considerable number of venues for all formats at reasonable ticket prices. In London the legit theaters and the Coliseum, where they put on musicals, opera and concerts, are state supported to keep the ticket prices low. The movies, on the other hand, cost more than a live show. I am a Wagnerian romantischer heldentenor, opera composer: "Shakespeare" & "The Political Shakespeare" & the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where professional actors are trained for the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner roles and voice production and dramaturgy techniques. I may be reached by phone at the Institute. My next concert in New York will be on Saturday, June 9th at the YOGA EXPO at the SOHO venue at the New Yorker Hotel. The title of the concert is BRING HIM HOME, with that song from the musical LES MISERABLES, encouraging the return of our armed forces and inspiring hope and love of country with This Land is Your Land, The House I Live In, You'll Never Walk Alone, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, Billy Bigelow's Soliloquy from Carousel, Granada, The House I Live In, Wien, Wien, nur du Allein, The Impossible Dream [The Quest], Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Do You Hear the People Sing?, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Kumbaya, Earth Anthem and eight other selections.

May. 21 2012 08:28 AM

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WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

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