Discount options just the ticket to see affordable theater
By EVERETT EVANS
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Houston, February 24, 2009
Photo: Stubdog.com’s Sam Levassar of Houston says the Web site offers half-price tickets to several local shows.
When we’re looking for ways to cut expenses, going to the theater may seem like an expendable luxury.
After all, consider the top prices of some big shows. Recent large-scale musicals presented by Broadway Across America and Theatre Under the Stars had tickets in the $70-$90 range. The Alley Theatre’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, opening tonight, tops out at $77.
Theater tickets are expensive because producing theater is expensive. Yet it’s possible to attend even these for considerably less. The lowest price for The Man Who Came to Dinner is $21; for Broadway Across America’s current tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, $21; for TUTS’ next show (Les Miserables), $32.
And there are many more affordable alternatives. With resourcefulness and flexibility on the part of the consumer, theater can fit into every budget.
First, realize ticket prices are relative. Those top tickets for touring shows may seem outrageous — until you consider that orchestra seats for most Broadway musicals now cost $125 and those for most plays have broken the $100 ceiling, too. On Broadway, one alternative is to buy rear mezzanine seats for about $40. Another is the TKTS booth, which sells half-price day-of-performance tickets for most shows.
The same sort of strategies can make attending theater more affordable here, too. They include:
1. Don’t insist on the best seats in the house. Ask for the least expensive available. Don’t go on Fridays or Saturdays, unless you’re attending a smaller company that performs only then. Being most in demand, weekend-night tickets are often more expensive.
2. Ask about preview performances, which are usually cheaper, or if the theater has any “pay what you can” shows, where you set your own price, usually with a minimum of $10, sometimes as low as $5. Or any other special, such as Chitty’s “buy one get one free” family night at 8 p.m. Monday. (The deal is available online at broadwayacrossamerica.com; the password is KRBE.)
3. Check out Stubdog (www.stubdog.com), which offers half-price tickets for selected performances. Plays currently listed include: Main Street Theaters’ The Pie Dialogues ($10-$15); University of Houston School of Theatre’s bobrauschenbergamerica ($10) and A.D. Players’ John: His Story ($14-$17). Stages Repertory Theatre and the Ensemble Theatre also sometimes have performances listed with Stubdog.
4. Seek shows at smaller and alternative theaters. The prices can’t be beat, and you’ll see a lot that’s fresh, exciting and unpredictable. Typical: Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Company, currently presenting Compleat Female Stage Beauty at Midtown Arts Center. All tickets are $13, except on “pay what you can” Mondays, which has a $5 minimum.
Catastrophic Theatre is initiating a pay-what-you-can policy for all its 2009 productions. Artistic director Jason Nodler says the suggested price is $25, but the rock-bottom minimum is $5 and “no one will be turned away because of lack of funds.”
5. If you’re a student or a senior, take advantage of the 10 percent to 50 percent discounts offered by most theaters.
6. If you have friends who love the theater, join forces. Go as a group of 10 or more and you can get a discount of 10 percent to 20 percent on each ticket.
Here’s how these strategies play out at a few theaters.
The Alley offers “Cheap Thrills” tickets at Tuesday and Sunday night performances of all Hubbard Stage productions: Select B-section seats are $21 and select A-section seats are $30. All seats for the first Saturday matinee preview of Neuhaus Stage shows are $21. The first Saturday matinee of each Hubbard Stage show is “pay what you can” with a $10 minimum. Students can purchase tickets for any weeknight show or matinee for $13. Seniors can get 50 percent off B-section seats on day of performance.
In honor of its 30th season, Stages has set regularly priced tickets at $30. Attending previews (Wednesday and Thursday before each opening) gets you in for $25, as do group rates. The best discount price is for students: $15.
Main Street Theater’s Pie Dialogues, opening Thursday, has full-price seats at $20-$35. But at previews (the last one is tonight), all seats are $10. Rush tickets — those purchased in the 90 minutes before curtain — are half-price; student rush tickets are $10. And the first Sunday after each opening is “pay what you can,” with a $5 minimum.
The Ensemble Theatre’s preview tickets are just $12, compared to its regular prices of $18-$27. Senior and student discount tickets range from $15-$22 and are $10 for previews. The theater also offers group discounts and occasional “pay what you wish” shows.
Of course, nothing beats free events, such as the Country Playhouse’s current readings of new scripts by Houston playwrights at 7 p.m. Sundays through April 5.
The mother lode of freebies is Miller Outdoor Theatre.
This year, Houston Ballet will perform a mixed repertory bill including Balanchine’s Symphony in C, May 9-11. Houston Grand Opera will perform Verdi’s Rigoletto, May 15-16. Theatre Under The Stars will present 42nd Street, June 14-19.The Houston Symphony plays on June 18, 20, 26 and 27, culminating in its annual Fourth of July spectacular. The annual Houston Shakespeare Festival will present Twelfth Night and Pericles, July 31-Aug. 9.
Houston really does offer theater for every pocketbook. Even an empty one.