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Truly “Accessible” Ticket Prices?

February 8, 2017

Inspired by an online discussion at http://theatreboard.co.uk/thread/610/angels-america-nt, where regular contributor Abby pointed out, “It’s interesting you mention the ROH/ENO as something that has always annoyed me is rich privileged people (not anyone here!) going on about how accessible opera is because the cheapest seats are £10 – they clearly haven’t ever sat in those seats if they think that’s a good way to experience opera, let alone dance. I’ve got to an age where it’s the best or second best seat or else I don’t bother because for me it’s just not worth being uncomfortable and frustrated in a lousy seat.”

I’d been thinking how to express that about theatre for ages, and I have to thank Abby for getting it out there so clearly. Quite simply, I think it really is all too often total rubbish about “making our show accessible to a wider audience” when the said “cheap seats” are going to provide an experience vastly inferior to the one those who can afford to pay for decent stalls seats are getting.

I always cringe when I see showbiz reporters trumpeting a potential starry hit that will be advertising “hundreds of £10 seats.” Sometimes, rarely, they are actually pretty good seats – ends of front rows or the back couple of rows of the stalls and dress circle, in the theatres that have a reasonable view back there. More often, though, they are the second and third balcony, and really restricted view stuff elsewhere…

The cynic in me suspects they are priced that way because someone has calculated that those seats will fill them with people who won’t know how to complain – but will remember not to buy them in future…

The result is that you get a first time theatregoer to come to the theatre. They sit in those grotty seats, can’t see or hear properly, and have to be winched out of them at the end… of course they don’t come back.

I grew keen on theatre thanks to “student standby.” In the days before “day seats” and discounts, you rolled up an hour before the show (longer, if you knew the play wasn’t doing well and they wanted every penny they could get) and you’d be sold the best available seat. That meant stalls and dress circle, and quite often if you were nice to them, you could even pick your pleasure, more or less.

When I grew up (Matilda) and had to pay full price, that was quite a shock. Luckily, even before I created Theatremonkey, I had the resource of all my notes to home in on the cheap but good seats – something I do to this day… and I think I could say from my 16 years online that I’ve helped many others do that too.

Once more, I wonder if the David Pugh philosophy is far better. “The Girls” has reasonably priced seats in all parts of the theatre, so there’s no need for a stunt discounting of a few cramped ones at the back. Prices are fair, and for a musical keen to attract a new audience, I think that will work very well.

Be interesting to see if others adopt this fairer, but less headline-grabbing approach. For the sake of building the theatre audience of the future by acknowledging successful method of the past, let’s hope it works and they do.

4 Comments
  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    February 8, 2017 10:42 am

    I totally agree with this. But, in the meantime, the situation is, I suppose, better than nothing. I grew up in a family with no money. My mum saved her family allowance and spent it all taking me to the theatre six times a year. This was in the 1960s and we sat on benches up at the back of ‘The Gods’. Sometimes we stood. I knew nothing different and still developed a passion for theatre that lives on today (and which I have passed on to my 21-year-old daughter). When I finally discovered good seats, I could never go back to the back of the balcony. But I hope people who have never been to the theatre (and, astonishingly, they exist – I know some!) won’t be put off and will still give theatre a go, even from the balcony. The magic can still reach there – as I know! By the way, I now NEVER book a seat without checking Theatremonkey first – this has revolutionised the process for me and everyone I know. I have saved a lot of money by spending a bit of time on your site checking for the best value seats. Thanks for this!

    • Steve Rich permalink
      February 8, 2017 11:00 am

      It is indeed better than nothing, Francesca, I agree. It’s just the hypocrisy I don’t like. “We’d love you to come in, but you have to sit in the corner and watch the experienced people have a far better time, but we look very generous indeed letting you do that.”

      Your early experiences mirror mine. The difference was, it was honest. Simply, you bought what you could afford, and got exactly what we paid for. There was no “See this, it’s only £10 not £65…” with a “but” when you arrived. It was, “we paid a shilling, and took a shilling seat.”

      Delighted you have passed it down a generation, that’s amazing. Hope your daughter takes advantage of her age for some good seats LOL. And get her to drag along a few non-theatregoing friends. I have to do that all the time, still, same as you. Coach trips, in the past, now on a more individual basis since group rates went the same way as cheap stalls…

      Glad the monkey helps you. Nice to be close to the magic, isn’t it. Hope the site continues to do that – the only way us regulars can get a fix now is to be clever, I guess. Sad, but we keep going :).

      • Francesca Clementis permalink
        February 8, 2017 11:22 am

        My daughter’s favourite story: she took a friend, who’d never been to the theatre, to see Wicked (courtesy of Get Into London Theatre). Halfway through the first act, her friend suddenly grabbed her hand and whispered in wonder ‘Look, there’s a real orchestra there!’. She was 19. This friend has now been to see many shows with other friends and has told them all in advance that they won’t believe it but there’s a ‘real orchestra’ there. The magic lives on…

      • Steve Rich permalink
        February 8, 2017 11:50 am

        Oh, that’s LOVELY! Beautiful and the magic lives on indeed :).

        My own favourite was when I was in sixth form and got a group for the back balcony at Les Miz. The show began and a girl who had never been to a show before suddenly said, “the stage is going round.” At the end, we grouped together to travel home, and she was missing. I found her in the foyer, backing the theatre manager into a wall, shouting at him to open the box office so she could buy another ticket… Wow.

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