Remember last August, American movie theater chains were offering $3 one-day tickets? They really wanted us all to turn off Netflix, leave the house and return to our seats.
And it worked—that day, anyway. What Amphibian Stage is doing with their new season isn’t quite right. To be sure, this theater, like many others in North Texas, offered performances or previews on a pay-what-you-can basis. They were designed to do some business, maybe even word of mouth.
But for a theater troupe to convert their entire new season to a ticket format that will allow attendees to choose between three or four different “price brackets” for different series (main stage, stand-up comics, National Theater Live) – this seems to be the first one in the vicinity. .
According to Artistic Director Kathleen Culebro, she learned about this pick-and-choose ticketing model from online conversations with other theater directors around the country.
“I learned about the impact of these pricing models on attendance,” Culebro said, “not only in increasing viewership, but also in a younger and more diverse audience that everyone wants to attract.”
This new tiered ticketing format is all about access, she said. It’s about removing barriers for people, especially young people, who might be put off by a $40 ticket.
“We don’t do big musicals like Hamilton that draw hundreds and thousands of people,” Culebro said. “We do smaller, quieter shows that a lot of people might find really interesting, but how are we going to attract them if ticket price is such an issue?”
Thus, Amphibian offers different levels throughout the season: cheap ticket, discount ticket, pay-in-advance ticket, standard ticket.
According to Culebro, the box office will not judge people by their choice. “We know that our visitors will choose the level that suits them. We’re just excited to bring more people to us.”
But all this has a downside. And it’s not really that people are getting cheaper, paying so little that it’s hurting the theatre’s bottom line — although revenues could drop so much, Culebro said, that it would send board members into a panic.
Oscar Eustis, artistic director of the New York Public Theater, posed the real problem a few years ago. He suggested that enough money could be raised from wealthy donors, enough money to make all of Public’s stage offerings free to the general public.
But what if you removed that ultimate price barrier, he asked, and there was no more reason to keep people from attending your shows – and they still don’t?
That would say, said Eustis, something really terrible. That your theater doesn’t offer people what they really want or need.
“Absolutely,” Culebro said. “Prices are only part of the equation. Like programming.”
The same can be said for outreach – to counter the widespread notion that art is insular, elitist, hard to reach or difficult to access.
“For most of our audience,” said Culebro, “going to the theater or museum on the weekend is not even possible.”
Making that choice available is one way to bring that opportunity to people, she says.
But she doesn’t think “we’re going to open our doors on the first day and people will line up and say, “God, I was just waiting for you to drop the ticket prices.” I think trust can be built between art and patrons of all kinds. And that trust-building will be a long exercise.”
Tiered ticket prices for the 2023 Amphibian season by series
- General admission to the main stage: $15, $25, $40, $60.
- General admission to the stand-up comedian residence: $15, $22, $30.
- General admission to the National Theatre: $10, $15, $20, $25.
- General admission to SparkFest: $10, $15, $20, $25.