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But I Only Wanted To Buy A Ticket…

November 16, 2011

Two incidents this week confirmed one of my long held suspicions that those who ‘live and breathe’ theatre by working in it are far detached from those to whom they wish to sell tickets – the paying audience.

To explain: first call came from an old friend wanting a couple of very hard to get seats for a hit show over the Christmas holidays. While attempting to explain the various methods by which this show sells its tickets, I could feel my own brain beginning to glaze over… and that is bearing in mind I’ve actually written a book with a whole chapter on the subject. Now I feel I may have the reason for how Mr P’s pharmacist can afford the holidays he takes every three months, bearing in mind how often Mr P had to read my explanation when editing the tome.

Anyway, for this particular show it really isn’t that easy to get a ticket even if you DO know how to navigate the system, but to explain it to anybody else without a working knowledge proved farcical, “So, you see, yes, the original producing theatre does have some tickets without a booking fee – but not very many as they are not the actual box office, whatever the phone numbers might say.  No, the phone number for the actual Theatre box office has changed, and even if you ring them they have two systems as well. One controls mostly online sales, while another has different seats for telephone bookers – but the online system can also be seen by the telephone answering staff too if they have to. Oh and yes, there is a booking fee to pay, but it includes a “restoration charge” unless you are booking online where the restoration charge is shown as part of the booking fee – but either way, yes, you are paying an extra pound towards replacing the manky foyer carpet one day.”

My friend got probably the last available tickets for that entire month, but without some guidance, who knows if the result would have been as successful.

The second incident was an email from a reader. Shocked at the price quoted for a family outing to a show next spring on the theatre’s website, they emailed me to ask why the price was so much lower according to Theatremonkey.com than the one they had seen elsewhere on the first site they found.

Turns out this reader was almost the victim of a horrible problem that is becoming more and more widespread online. Unless a theatre or show name is a registered trade mark (and sometimes not even that is protection) ANYBODY can buy any internet site name related to a show. So, any ticket agent – legitimate or not – could own, say, “TheSoundOfMusicBoxOffice.com” or “HerMajestysTheatreTicketSales.com” and have a pretty decent chance that the real producer / theatre owner will do nothing about it. Work a bit of magic with Google, and the site will be the first one that appears when “Sound Of Music Tickets” is typed in. With 40% of web traffic going to the first name on the list, and a lot of uninformed people – you can see why buying a name like that for a few pounds is lucrative, and worth riding luck for until lawyers catch up with them.

Again I was able to set the reader straight and they obtained the tickets they wanted direct from the real box office website (indeed, were able to choose their seats using the box office system and Theatremonkey seating plans for advice).

Simply, I think there is a way to go for the theatre industry to catch up with what is happening online and in the wider world. The public are now used to having things simply and instantly, and theatres / producers need to make things far simpler. To sum up my own advice, I’d say this:

1)       Find out the official box office telephone number and website address. www.Theatremonkey.com have them without fail for all major West End theatres, www.Officiallondontheatre.co.uk  have even more, and www.londontheatre.co.uk is also a good source of contact details. You’ll start with a knowledge of the original ticket prices at least.

2)       If you can’t find anything that way, approach a genuine ticket agency. Look for the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers symbol – its on the top right of all Theatremonkey pages and can be seen, with a list of all members at the official website www.star.org.uk. Some agents charge much more than others, but none more than around 25% more – and your ticket will be genuine.

It’s a jungle out there, but it is possible to buy without getting caught in the undergrowth. Good hunting, everybody.

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