Originally created 06/20/03

Discounted tickets could fill seats



As the orchestra wraps up the overture, a hush falls over the cast and crew. The stage is set for the first act, and all performers are in their assigned spots. The backstage work lights are extinguished and in a blaze of light, the curtain rises to ...

A half-empty house.

Sadly, this is a scene replayed in the arts community. After months of work and hefty expenditures, local groups are finding that in terms of seats filled, their cups are far from running over.

So why have so many local performers found themselves standing center stage scratching their heads as another quality production goes largely unseen? I can speculate - a poor economy, apathy, alien abduction - but the truth is I don't have the answers.

I might, however, have some solutions.

Currently, there is only one way to get into a local performance: patrons buy tickets at the listed price, present them at the door and then take their seats. This traditional method of arts attendance has worked for centuries and should not be abandoned, but it might be time to shake things up a little.

For instance, what if those third balcony nose-bleeds that often go unsold are offered half-price 10 minutes before a performance begins? The argument against that is people then will wait and purchase tickets on the cheap at the last minute, and to some extent that might be true. But these are seats that usually go unsold, seats in which regular patrons have no interest. The question is whether selling these seats at discounted prices is better than not selling them.

Here's another idea: offer businesses, particularly ones with a significant number of employees, blocks of tickets at a corporate rate. Go ahead and shave five or ten bucks off the ticket price for companies willing to buy in bulk. Don't make the mistake of believing that 20 $50 seats sold for $40 represents $200 in lost profit. What it represents is $800 in sales that might not have been there before.

Offering tickets for less is a nerve-wracking proposition, and performing-arts organizations operate in skin-of-teeth mode even in the best of times, but think of the benefits. A full house, even with a significant number of seats sold at discounted prices, will more likely than not represent a larger infusion of funds than a fractionally full one. A discounted ticket might be the enticement needed to grow new audiences, to attract patrons who had never ventured into a theater.

Besides, if nothing else, local performers would love to see what a full house looks like.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com