How To Attend Live Theatre… on a Budget

Many of you who read this blog regularly probably wonder how we can afford to go to so many shows. You have probably been schooled in the theory that “Theatre Is Expensive”. This is emphasized by columnists such as Chris Erskine in the LA Times, who wrote today: “Yes, “The Book of Mormon” is crazy-expensive, but think of all the things you get: Cutting-edge comedy. A religious education. A night out of the house, which is always good. Especially our house, a place decorated in dust-bunnies and gin.”

Guess what? My tickets for “Book of Mormon”? $30. On the side, towards the front.

So how do I score good seats. Here are some approaches. Even if you aren’t in LA, many will apply to the cities were you live:

  1. Look for half-price ticket or discount ticket programs. Many cities have them. I particularly recommend Goldstar Events (use this link and I can ear a little credit). Plays411 will also send out mailings for discount tickets. Sometimes, you can even score free tickets. If you are in LA, LA Stage Alliance also has a half-price program.
  2. Know when particular theatres have special programs. For example, in Los Angeles, the theatres associated with the Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, Kirk Douglas) have Hottix. By phone, starting 3 weeks before opening, or at the box office, you can often get $25 tickets (limit 2, 10% service charge). These may be balcony or off on the side. I’ve heard they will be doing Hottix for LA Opera as well, but haven’t confirmed that yet.
  3. Know how to get the cheapest seats. For the Pantages, this means (a) buy early (when the show goes on sale to the public), and (b) buy at the box office. This avoids the Ticketmaster $7/ticket service fee. You can often get $25 or $30 tickets off to the side this way. That’s how I got Book of Mormon. The Pantages does demand pricing, so later in the run of a popular show, prices go up. [Yes, this means that sometimes the cheapest tickets are season tickets at the Pantages]
  4. If you can, take advantages of “day of” programs. Many theatres, including the Pantages and Ahmanson, have day-of rush tickets or student rush tickets. They may have ticket lotteries.
  5. Subscribe. If you like what a particular theatre is doing, subscribe. This supports the theatre year round, and may introduce you to shows you wouldn’t think of going to. I like to have a mixture of subscription seats and shows I particularly pick. We subscribe at REP East, Colony, and Cabrillo — one Equity Waiver, one mid-Size, and one large regional.
  6. Look for Audience Filling Programs. Theatres do not like to have empty rooms. Actors don’t like to act to an empty room. There are services that help fill theatres. These include SoldOutCrowd and TheatreExtras. I haven’t used these, but I know folks that do. They are worth looking into.
  7. Get on Mailing Lists. If you get your names on the mailing lists of your favorite theatres, you will often get announcements of discounts, previews, and special performances. This includes, by the way, being Facebook friends with your favorite theatres.

If you do things right, going out to the theatre can be no more expensive than going to a movie on a Saturday night (with concessions). Wait until the movie comes out on DVD — trust me, you’ll see the same acting. Go support the live theatre — you’ll never know what you’ll see, and each show will be a little different. Further, help the theatre by writing about what you see, and telling your friends about the show.

(P.S.: Guess how we’re avoiding Carmageddon tonight? Your probably did — by going to the theatre!)