Accessible ticketing: why timing is everything

Fine. There is a tonne of great theatre with accessible pricing, and a plethora of concessions in all shapes and sizes. There are schemes for young people to join – the RSC Key, Entry Pass, Trike. There are theatres that give away, or subsidise, tickets to community members. I know all the tricks of the trade (I’ve even blogged about it.) But is such pricing really making theatre accessible?

Let me give you a scenario. It is season announcement day at the Misc. Theatre and it’s all really rather exciting. There’s a good ole marketing push, newsletters flurry through to their targeted segments (of people who have chosen to sign up to hear from that theatre), and the media have a nice story to write about. Some might pop the date the tickets go on sale in their diary. Normal busy people scan the email, try to memorise the important info, and bin it.

It’s ticket sales day *drum roll please*. Audience segments, possibly including the very educated, the paid-up theatre member, the privileged retired, the yummy mummy, the executive with a pa, and so on, have fingers on buzzers ready to jump at the chance to get their tickets for the season. (I lie, Top-of-his-Game Executive John has his PA’s finger on the buzzer.) These lucky few, who really can afford any price, nab the expensive tickets but also many of the cheaper tickets. Because these are the people who have the luxury of being able to plan ahead and to spend ahead.

The people who need accessible ticket strategies don’t have those privileges! I’d say I’m in a pretty alright position, mid-masters and with a bit of part-time income. But I don’t have a flying fucking clue what country I will be in in September, let alone whether I will be employed, whether I can travel about, whether I can afford the time in the evenings to go to the theatre. I can’t plan ahead like that! I almost never get tickets when tickets first go on sale, which means it’s super rare I will see someone famous or a particularly notorious show.

So this is how I get my theatre tickets. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to nab some press tickets, which luckily are arranged pretty last minute. If I am *utterly* desperate to see something, and I mean completely, utterly, would never ever miss it, I might book nearish to the beginning of the ticket sale period. This to me, most of the time, is a huge risk. Nearly always, I’m looking a maximum a month ahead for theatre tickets, which becomes very restrictive because basically all the good-priced stuff has gone. The gods and the restricted view are my friends. The odd time, I will make the most of a Pay What You Can performance, if I remember to note down when those are. Actually, then *most of the time* and I genuinely mean like a majority of the times I go to the theatre and I go A LOT, I turn up on the day in the evening and hope some kind person has returned tickets and some kind box office person will give them to me, or that there are returns that are cheap, or that there are day tickets/standing tickets.

So this is why the Donmar has got (nearly almost) it just right. Their £10 tickets go on sale a couple of weeks max before the show. I can just about plan ahead and spend ahead that far. The only slight problem is that on a Monday morning at 10am, I might be frantically dealing with the Monday Rush (of emails, checklists, fellow employee interrogations about my weekend) and completely forget to join the online queue. Or I might be working in an office where, lets be honest, it’s not really a great idea to buy your theatre tickets during working hours. And actually, every time I have been in that online queue the tickets have sold out before I even witness the check out.

Here’s another scenario. The people who can queue for cheap(ish) tickets on the morning at the real live physical box office get there at like 7am. That means the people in that queue are freelancers with a lot of time on their hands, tourists, rich, or students. That doesn’t seem like a really accessible way of doing things.

Solutions in the comments please. Because I’m a bit fed up. We need a way for the cheap tickets to be available to those who need them, without them having to spend ahead or plan ahead. We need a way to enable the spontaneity of theatre-going that comes with precarious lives.

Also welcome: audience research about who actually gets their hands on the cheapy cheap cheap tickets.