As someone who regularly attends amateur theatre shows, I rarely hear a complaint about the ticket price. With the majority of shows charging between $15 and $30 for entry, Tickets to see a live show are close to what you pay at a big cinema (especially if you include popcorn and snacks). The expectation has been set that, for a low-key night of entertainment, that’s the price you’ll pay. Similarly, I don’t often hear complaints about the price of tickets for professional shows – varying from $60 to $140 or more – perhaps a friend will say that’s something they can’t afford right now, but they don’t complain that it’s too expensive. For most people, seeing a big show is an event, and, like a rock concert, it has an event level price tag. But how are these ticket prices set? Are they really value for money, or just a figure plucked out of thin air?
To answer that question, you have to ask another, first: how much does it cost to stage a show? The elements required to successfully stage a show are many and varied, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. Many elements are also “optional”, determined by the producers as a valid expense or something that’s deemed unnecessary for the production to succeed. As always, with any venture, the payment required for the people involved is often one of the greatest expenses. The cost of the show can be expressed as an equation:
Production (Space + Things + Services)
This looks fairly simple, but can be broken down in many ways. Things like wages and theatre hire, set construction and lighting hire can seem fairly straightforward – other things like rehearsal space hire, consumable props (including blood, pyrotechnics, single-use hair or masks), minimum cast call fees, box office servicing fees, food and catering fees, royalty and licence fees may not be apparent when watching the final show.
So, now that we’ve determined the cost, we have a break-even point. By the time a production opens, it has already spent the majority of the money required to produce it – in other words, it is already in debt. Every ticket sold goes a little way to repaying that debt, and reaching break-even. In the case of many amateur shows, this is the point they aim for. They raise enough money to put on a production, spend that money putting on a production, and try and make back the money that they’ve spent, so they can put on another production. But in determining the ticket price, this is where a little guess work comes in. For this we turn to another equation:
Expected Ticket Sales
Break-Even Ticket Price
The producers, when setting a ticket price, must estimate how many people will come to the show over the show’s run, which helps them determine the ticket price. What must also be taken into consideration, however, is that the ticket price can affect the volume of audience that come to see the show (i.e. the cheaper the ticket, the easier it is for potential audience to justify the entertainment expenditure). That means the profitability of a ticket price might look something like this:
(N.B. Figures plucked from thin air.)
In this example, the most profitable average ticket price is approximately $50-$55. Below that, you get more audience but not as much revenue. Above that, audience numbers begin to dwindle as it gets too expensive for some audience to go. While a lot of these calculations are done based on real figures, estimations, and numbers from previous shows, certain elements of audience engagement are difficult to account for.
So, does this answer our question? Are ticket prices really value for money? Certainly we can note that productions cost money – a lot of money – and often there are invisible costs that aren’t necessarily apparent as an audience member. Additionally, we can safely assume that producers are aware of these costs, ticket sales projections, and estimated break-even point – and that it is their job to make a profit. As such, we can understand that our ticket price reflects, in part, the cost of the production and wages for cast and crew. But still, what about value? That can only be answered by the audience. There is value in entertainment, in culture, in art, and in the end it is always the audience who decides how much. If there is not enough value in the production to justify the ticket price, they will not come. If, however, they see the value in the passion, they will open their hearts, and wallets, and come.