Theater and concert tickets cost considerably more than museum admissions. However, there are also considerably more discount opportunities available – from small reductions to completely free tickets – if one is willing to do their homework (and in some cases footwork).
If there is a theater in town that you frequent, or an opera company or dance ensemble that you would like to see more often, you should strongly consider subscribing. The overall discount is often considerable for the very best seats and even more if you don’t mind making little sacrifices in seating (the balcony instead of the orchestra, for instance) and attending on weeknights. More importantly, the subscription process forces you to make decisions as to what you want to see and when you will see it. That means that you will actually be in the seats instead of just “thinking about it.”
Types of Subscription – Subscriptions may be for a full or partial season. If it’s for a venue that hosts many different types of performance, they may have a subscription aimed at classical music fans, another aimed at ballet lovers, one with children’s programming, etc. Student and senior subscriptions offer an even greater discount. You may even find subscriptions for couples, for a parent and child, and for patrons with a hearing disability (which will ensure that your tickets will be for special signed performances).
Subscription Setup – In the old days, you would subscribe to specific performances, all chosen in advance, receive the tickets in the mail – and go through hell if you had to make a change. While some groups still do that, they have made it much easier to change your seats (the New York Philharmonic allows you do to the entire process on the web). Other groups now send out a flyer for each show, giving information about the performance plus listing performance information and the different ways to reserve your tickets. One other variation are partial subscriptions – which allow you to pay a fixed fee (or take out a membership) and then order all your tickets at discount on a show by show basis.
Additional Subscription Benefits – Subscribers are usually given a discount on any extra single tickets they need, as well as priority seating, opportunities to buy tickets to special events in advance of the general public, and admission into talkbacks, parties, and other happenings. They will often get discounts to other local arts companies (or discount offers to other shows), as well as parking and restaurant discounts.
Renew or Not Renew? – If you have purchased a subscription in the past and have gotten enjoyment out of it (and have missed no more than one performance) then definitely renew. Was the last season a turkey? First decide if it was one show, or an overall decrease in quality – or maybe a change in the artistic direction of the theater. If the group has a good record in the past, then continue to subscribe, especially if the one bad show was just an experiment gone bad (it happens!) The main reason we would not consider renewing a subscription is because we have missed more than one performance in the past and expect the same circumstances in the future. It may be because of travel, job demands or that the theater has an inconvenient or inflexible policy regarding subscribers switching performances.
Membership is kind of a cousin to subscription. Some arts organizations use the terms interchangeably, so that if you become a member you automatically get a season subscription. But most organizations, especially the larger ones, differentiate them. A subscription ensures that you have a ticket to each performance in the season you are subscribing to, but purchasing membership is just a way of supporting the organization, sometimes with a donation of as little as $25. Usually there are different levels to membership, and the more you donate the more benefits you get. Basic perks will often include a newsletter subscription and your name listed in the performance program or quarterly newsletter, but as you get higher up the donation ladder, those benefits will include more discounts and free tickets as well as invitation to opening night parties or receptions with the cast.
Many of the larger non-profit performance venues (Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles Music Center) offer membership programs that are worth investigating especially if you are already frequenting the hall anyway. For example, at the basic level, Carnegie Hall members receive access to half-price tickets to several concerts every month plus invites to dress rehearsals.
Special Day of Performance Discounts
If you only go to a concert or show on Friday or Saturday night, you are probably going to pay full board – but a few scheduling maneuvers can mean big savings.
Dress Rehearsals – Thirty years ago it was common for a theatre company or an orchestra to “paper” the final dress rehearsal in order to have a small, friendly audience for the cast to play to. Now dress rehearsal tickets are sold as “almost regular” performances (albeit at a very large discount) or given away free to members as well as senior and student groups.
In our experience most theatre dress rehearsals are run as if it were a first performance of the show. The action is not stopped unless there is a major problem with a performer. However, classical music concert dress rehearsals are usually very informal (we’ve seen people reading a newspaper during them) and can vary widely in what is presented. Some dress rehearsals offer the complete concert; others are the orchestra practicing one movement of a symphony. Either way can be fun!
It was tough, but you managed to scrape together the money for those tickets, you’ve plunked down the dough, and now you can just enjoy the show without thinking anymore about money, right? Wrong. What about getting to the theater? What about dinner? And drinks afterwards? And what if your date wants a treat at intermission? Sometimes it seems like the expenses for a simple night out never end. But if you’re smart, you can keep the evening within your budget. First of all, see if you can get to the venue via public transportation. Theaters and music halls tend to be in well-trafficked areas that are near subway stations and bus stops. If you can’t find any transportation info on the venue’s website, call and ask. If you’re driving, find out if there is anywhere you can park for free. Sometimes if you’re willing to walk a bit, there will be a cheaper lot a little further from the theater. You may also be able to find a spot on the street if you arrive early. Some garages will offer discounts on evening and weekend parking, so inquire at the garages or hunt around online for coupons.
As for dinner, don’t feel like you absolutely have to eat out before attending a performance – and you should never try to combine true gourmet dining and entertainment in one evening. Theater and concert regulars know that this just isn’t feasible and settle for many pre-show meals at home (not many people can afford to be a culture fiend and a foodie). If your only option is to grab a bite out, consider getting a sandwich at a deli or dropping in at a favorite fast food joint. On a date or a special occasion look for places that have good prix fixe deals – restaurants right by the theater often do. (Note: If you really enjoy going out before or after a show, then try to patronize the same places instead of jumping around. Regular customers, especially those who tip well, are frequently offered special deals.)
Need an intermission sweet tooth fix? Whatever you do don’t pay for the over-priced concessions that the theater sells (unless it’s a smaller theater, where they may be more reasonably priced). We advise dropping by a convenience store before the show and stocking your purse with M&Ms or other snacks for your intermission treat. If you’ve got a big enough bag, bring a water bottle from home too. But whatever you do, put everything away before the curtain goes back up. Nobody wants to hear you slowly un-wrapping your crinkly Snickers wrapper and gnawing on a candy bar during the performance.
Want a drink or nosh after the show? Check your program to see if they included any special deals. Theaters frequently make deals with local establishments that will offer discounted drinks if you present your ticket stub. (Ignore the “Celebrity Choice” column in New York Playbills – which is all advertiser PR.) If there are no deals to be had, and you’re with a good friend who you just want to chat with, then there’s no harm in finding the nearest pizza place and getting a cheap soda and a table where you can share your thoughts on the performance. After all, the whole point of enjoying the arts is inspiration and communication – not fancy food and high-priced drinks.
Previews – Remember the days when a Broadway show ran two previews and then had an early evening opening night so the critics could make their deadlines? Sorry, long gone. Not only on Broadway but many regional theatres do at least three weeks of previews including a press week before opening night. (This is the main reason that theater reviews have lost almost all sense of spontaneity.) Not only are preview performances cheaper to attend, it can be a lot of fun to pre-guess the critics.
There is of course one major downside to attending a preview. You could be seeing a bomb that you would have otherwise avoided after the notices came out. For us, that has been a very rare experience – in fact, Jeffrey Compton was glad he saw two of Broadway’s most recent short-run musical disasters “Glory Days” and “The Story of My Life.” However, a couple of early-preview performances have been spoiled by a sound problem or a set not moving – which was easily fixed before the next performance. For that reason, we recommend avoiding the first two or three previews.
Weekdays – Tuesday is the slowest night for any performance week, Wednesday is next, followed by Thursday – you get the idea. And unless the show is a complete sell-out, tickets are usually cheaper and available if you go at these times. (If you do go during the week, especially Tuesdays, please double-check curtain times as they are frequently earlier than Friday or Saturday.) On Broadway, weekday evenings aren’t cheaper (however discounts are far more abundant), but Wednesday matinees are often priced a bit lower than other performances.