To Comp or Not to Comp; or, Why We Now Have Season Tickets

Our artistic consultant teases me because I’m shy about asking for comps. One of the perks of working in a theater is the frequent occurrence of being offered free tickets to other theaters’ previews, openings, poorly selling performances, and just nights when fuller houses are desired. Many times a season, sign-up sheets will show up at our front desk: we sign our name with quiet glee because, voila, we just saved $20 on a show we wanted to see. Even when these invitations don’t go out, there is an agreement among many theaters in the Bay Area that you can call ahead, say you work at Blah Blah Blah Theater Company Group, and if the show is not sold out then you can probably sneak in. And, of course, because we work in a theater, we know people who work in other theaters, and many times those relationships are exploited to get free tickets. There are a number of ways.

Many of my colleagues are pros. They can get free tickets to just about anything, it seems. (They are also just generally better about putting themselves out there in the community; I have come to define my presence here almost entirely through writing—for one theater and this blog. I was unbelievably fortunate to land in the job I have so soon after I arrived here, but the disadvantage of this is that I’ve never truly been down in the dirt with the larger theater community: the community who cannot solely survive on income from the arts. In this respect, during my short 11-month stint in Chicago as an intern and freelancer, I, out of necessity, made more inroads than in my just-under three years here.) My colleagues know many more people here. For many theaters, they are also more desirable audience members because, for them, each show is an audition for local talent—actors, directors, designers. I give feedback about these elements, but I’m by no means a key player in hiring talent. If I’m auditioning anyone, its the wordsmith, but usually I’m just there to enjoy the show.

And so, if that’s true, if I’m not there on company business, why shouldn’t I pay for tickets? Why shouldn’t you? But, Dan, we’re there to support our friends and colleagues. Yes, as well you should. Certainly. But should you not also support them—and the theaters giving them homes—financially? But, Dan, we work in theater: we don’t make enough money to spend what little we make on seeing theater. Yes, you say that, and I don’t disagree . . . but then you spend $20 on drinks after the show. Hmm.

I like getting comps. I really do. And I especially love that interns get comps. As far as I’m concerned, they should get a free year-long pass to every nonprofit that employs an intern. Every nonprofit in the country, that is. I want them to be able to show up at The Arizona Museum of Natural History and say, “Hey, here’s my ID from Blah Blah Blah Theater Company Group in San Francisco,” and get free access. But is a system in which theater practitioners can rely on getting comps hurting nonprofit theater?

Some colleagues and I were under the impression that we had comps to Berkeley Rep tonight to see Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. We saw his Last Cargo Cult (which he is doing in rep with Steve Jobs) a month ago and enjoyed it and decided we wanted to go back. We thought a contact at the theater was setting it up, but miscommunications occurred and it turned out that we did not have tickets—and that the show was sold out, and that the walk-in list (the list of other theater practitioner hopefuls wanting comps) was long and full. And good for Berkeley Rep! I’m glad we didn’t take three tickets away from paying patrons. If I want to see the show before it closes this weekend, I better cough up the $19.50 and buy a ticket.

Right?

I faced this dilemma with Shotgun Players. I tried—and failed—to finagle comps or discounted tickets from them for both parts of The Salt Plays. “No,” they said about In the Wound. “We can put you on the list, but there’s no guarantee,” they said about Of the Earth. I’m reluctant to commute to a theater without tickets secured; of course, my intern was like, “Great. Put me on the list!” and she got in to see Mary Stuart no problem. I didn’t try because part of me felt guilty I was even asking. I had seen their Animal Farm the year before and really enjoyed it. I knew I liked their work. I knew I was going to enjoy these plays. So why shouldn’t I support them, which is what I ended up doing both times. I bought my ticket to In The Wound, and loved it. I bought my ticket to Of the Earth. And of course I loved it. (Do we like things more when we pay for them? Is that some psychological truth I am remembering from Psych 101?)

In their program for Of the Earth was the smartly designed insert you see at the bottom this page (their illustrator, R Black,  is off the hook amazing) announcing their 2011 season (their seasons run from March to January). It’s a sweet lineup. I immediately knew I was going to want to see all of them. Back home, I told Rachel about the show and told her about next season. She l asked the logical question, “You love them. Why don’t we subscribe and support them?” It didn’t hurt that they have two affordable options for young adults.

So, it’s because I couldn’t get comps that we have reached this milestone in our lives: our very first theater subscription package! It feels strangely momentous knowing where I am going to be on a specific Thursday night next January. I will even know exactly where I’ll be sitting, as soon as I call Shotgun back to choose our seats. I can still picture where my parents sat when they had subscriptions to the St. Louis Rep: house left around the thrust, towards the back of the orchestra, on the third aisle. I saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? from those seats. I saw Into the Woods from those seats. And a number of others.

And now I am going to see 5 Shotgun shows from these. Exciting!

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