I just survived the Adelaide Fringe and Womadelaide! After seeing over 30 Fringe shows and spending two full days at Womadalaide you might think I’d be eating 2 minute noodles for a month as I struggle to pay off my credit card, but I’m not.
Seeing a lot of theatre can be very expensive. Especially during festival times when there might be dozens of shows that interest you. At the start of a festival season I always budget how much I can afford to spend and carefully allocate it. I like to spend as much as I can afford to support my fellow artists, but my appetite for entertainment always far exceeds my budget.
Do we actually get what we pay for when it comes to live theatre in Australia? I believe that with a little bit of effort I see a lot more quality theatre than I could ever afford. Cheap does not always mean the show is bad just as expensive does not always mean the show is good. The trick is knowing how to spot a bargain.
My best advice is to do your homework. If there is a festival or major production coming to town then google the acts and find reviews from previous seasons and locations. Identify the shows you really want to see well before the rest of the city has caught on. This way you can get the discounts that are actual bargains and get cheap tickets to the previews of the good shows before anyone else has realised they are good. Stay ahead of the pack.
Here are a few other tips for making your entertainment dollar stretch further:
Rush – This is probably the most well-known ticket discount. Check out halftix.com.au or festival and venue websites for great prices on rush tickets. As an example, there were tickets going for Jon Bennett’s show ‘Fire in the Meth Lab’ at the Adelaide Fringe for only $8 on cheap Tuesday and then later discounted on the half price booth at $4 each! This was obscenely good value as I think it was one of the best comedy shows I saw in the Fringe this year.
It’s not unusual to see a four or even five star show in the half-price ticket list of a major festival when there is a lot of competition for ticket sales.
You can also look out for rush opportunities when travelling. Both Broadway and the West End have half-price ticket booths and I strongly recommend waiting until you arrive before purchasing tickets, unless there is something you would dread missing out on. On a recent trip to Broadway I saw 8 excellent musicals including First Date, Big Fish, Kinky Boots and Book of Mormon and I paid half price or less for each of these fantastic shows.
Standing room – Many theatre companies offer standing room at a highly discounted rate. For example Melbourne Theatre Company offers standing room tickets for as little as $30 which can be a saving of up to $61!
Buy early – Get in quick for preview tickets and early bird discounts. Some festivals also offer subsidised tickets which sell out really fast, so do your homework and be the first in line.
Cheap nights – Some companies will also offer cheaper tickets on nights they predict will be slower. You will often find that tickets are cheaper on Tuesdays or Wednesdays so it’s worth checking the ticket price for the whole season before automatically booking a Friday or Saturday night.
Ticket lotto – When Wicked toured Australia they offered at least 20 tickets in a ticket lotto each night. These tickets were often unsold ones and sometimes partial view. Most ticket lotto’s will require you to arrive at the theatre around 6pm and put your name in the draw. If you are lucky enough to win you might get two tickets at a hugely discounted price of around $25-30. To increase your chances go on an unpopular night or try your luck when it’s raining outside and less people will be bothered to venture out.
Under 30’s discounts – Melbourne Theatre Company offers under 30's three plays for just $96, which is less than an adult ticket for just one play!
Artist pass – If you are a performer in a theatre festival there are often great discounts available for holders of Artist passes. At the Adelaide Fringe over 300 shows were discounted and a large number of those were free!
Volunteer – Many festivals and amateur companies offer free tickets or at least the opportunity to watch the show for free to their volunteers. Duties can include Box Office or Ushering and can be immensely rewarding as volunteering can make you feel like you are part of the action and may come with other benefits such as cast parties, souvenir t-shirts and food and drink.
Season subscriptions –If you like the work of a particular company then you may be able to save a lot of money by subscribing for an entire season. For the Bell Shakespeare Company you can save $90 when you subscribe for a year. Many companies offer you choices too. So they might perform 6 shows a year but allow you to select your favourite 3 and still save.
Resold tickets – I bought my Womadelaide tickets on Gumtree for over $100 below the cost price. The seller had won tickets but had already purchased a four day pass. People have a variety of reasons for not being able to attend at the last minute and in the last week you might find real bargains on EBay, Gumtree or Sticky Tickets.
Queuing at sell out shows – Not all sold out shows are impossible to get in to. On a trip to London I was absolutely desperate to see Matilda. I arrived at the theatre 3 hours before the performance and was the first in line for returns. I ended up with excellent seats. I did pay the face value of the tickets, however sometimes they are discounted. Be mindful of scalpers and fake tickets and if in doubt ask the Box Office staff for advice.
Sign up to receive specials – Getting on the email list for your favourite companies is also a great idea. Not only can you be the first to know when a show goes on sale, but you can also sometimes get some great ticket offers. I recently saw half price tickets for an excellent production on Groupon.
Group Bookings – For many companies if you have a group of 6 or 10 people they will offer you a discounted price. It’s a great way to save money and spend time with your favourite theatre people.
Gift vouchers – Many theatre companies, venues and festivals will offer gift vouchers that will allow the recipient to choose the particular performance they would like to spend it on. Drop the hint for your birthday or Christmas and enjoy!
Perhaps my most important piece of advice is to more but please don’t spend less. Our arts industry still needs your dollar. If we want to keep the shows coming, then we need to keep supporting them. So if you loved it and you got a great deal then repay the artist by shouting praise from the rooftop. Get on twitter and facebook and make sure everyone you know is aware that you just saw a terrific show and urge them to get along and enjoy it too.
Do you have any tips for stretching your theatre dollar? Have you tried any of the tips above?