30 Days: Performing Arts

Day 4: The mysteries of tickets.

(Yes, I know it’s Nov. 5, I will catch up.)

So you have some sense of what’s out there, what kind of experience are you looking for, and maybe have narrowed things down to a small number of things you want to see. How do you get a ticket?

This, I’m sorry to say, may not always be as trivially easy as it should be. The simplest (and still often best) approach is to go to the venue and buy a ticket in person. This is my approach for the Kennedy Center, because, like many venues, tickets purchased in person don’t have a service charge, but tickets purchased over the phone or online do. (This is counterintuitive…you’d think the automated service might save you money, but it generally doesn’t.) Also, the ticket people at the KC (like their peers at Boston Symphony Hall and many other venues) are knowledgeable and helpful. They will  advise you on finding the right combination of date, performance and seat. Something websites try to do via automation with out much success.

But if you can’t get to the hall, then online or phone is likely your option.  Most venue websites let you pick your seat (some even have images that show you the view from your proposed seat). You should steel yourself for all the fees…as well as a pitch for a contribution. You can print the tickets, have them held at the box office, or, at some venues, get them to email you a digital ticket for your phone.

It’s important to make sure you are on the website that is authorized to sell tickets for the attraction you want to see. This is not a problem for most of what I go to (people are not thick on the ground pirating tickets online for baroque opera for example). But it is a real nuisance for big hits. (Ticket fraud for Hamilton is happening online and on the street.)

It’s also worth untangling subscription versus single ticket sales. Non-profit arts organizations’ business models (by and large) depend on subscriptions. That is what provides them enough capital to do a whole season. Personally, I think this model is getting a little wobbly of late, but for the moment it still is how things work.

As a result, subscribers get first crack at the best seats, generally getting some price break for bundling shows together. You also get other benefits such as the right to exchange tickets. There is a more intangible aspect–feeling connected to a given organization–being “a member.” It is true that certain things–last year’s Ring cycle by Washington National Opera, and Hamilton for instance, are more likely to be available to subscribers than single ticket buyers. Subscriptions also may introduce you to things you wouldn’t have seen on your own. I didn’t much care for last year’s Disgraced at Arena, but I thought Sweat was terrific and beautifully acted and directed. I wouldn’t have gone to either if we hadn’t been subscribers.

That said, subscribing isn’t for everybody. If you are new to performing arts stuff, I would “date around” with different companies before considering subscribing. You’ll get a feel for what style and tone they offer. (Edgy, like Studio Theater in DC, elegant and old school like the Boston Symphony, etc.) And also it’s worth paying attention to whether you like being there, that is in their main venue–whether it’s a place that just seems enjoyable to go to. For many years, I went to (and often reviewed) the free concerts in the Garden Court at the National Gallery of Art. It is far from being an ideal venue–echoing acoustic and poor sight lines. When there was an orchestra, it was a pick up band that wasn’t extensively rehearsed, soloists were sometimes great, other times kind of winging it. yet those concerts had an openness, and generosity that was rare. And ticket wise? You didn’t need any all. Loving the venue is part of it.

In a future post I’ll deal with handling the price (costs can be high, but relatively speaking the performing arts are a good buy, and there a lot of ways to attend on the cheap if you are willing to do some leg work.)




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