Unchecked Ticket Hikes Are Pricing People Out Of Theatregoing
Glow sticks. We’ll come on to that in a moment.
This week, The iPaper’s Kasia Delgado issued an indictment of A Streetcar Named Desire’s £305 ticket prices, stating: “Theatre needs to make money. It also needs to remain valued and loved, and if only people with loads of spare cash, or a very relaxed approach to credit card debt, end up being able to see it, I worry about where that’ll leave the best form of entertainment that exists. An art form, that – after all – Shakespeare famously put on stage for anyone and everyone.”
Inflation busting premium ticket prices of £305, plus booking fee, is not only absurd, it is criminal amid the cost of living crisis.
Heck, even leading lady Patsy Ferran is uncomfortable with it all, stating in an interview recently: “The last couple of years theatre prices have reached a point that is shocking to me, but maybe I should just get used to it.”
In reality, profit thirsty ATG’s dominant market position means the company does not face any pressure to continually innovate and improve.
Of course, our old friend dynamic pricing is at play. I get it. Streetcar is a commercial show entitled to charge whatever the market can take.
But affordability equals sustainability, and sensible ticket prices are key to the theatre’s survival.
Speaking on a panel entitled Building a Better Financial Model for Theatre at The Stage’s Future of Theatre conference, Lighting designer Paule Constable said that premium tickets have generated a “wave of discontent” within the industry.
She added: “We need more transparency around how that money is spent. We, as a workforce, need to make the effort to understand that more and it needs to be talked about more.”
It’s hard not to admit that she has a point. Theatre has got to be kept accessible to everybody, because ultimately everything depends on keeping audiences excited about going.
Still, you can see A Streetcar Named Desire for a tenner. If you queue up 2.5 hours before performances for a glowstick (yes, really). Out of the 30, five glow sticks glow green when snapped. The lucky five can head to the box office and buy a pair of front row £10 tickets. There is a weekly lottery.
Send in the clowns. Ah, don’t bother. They’re here.
Anyway, once I’d peeled myself off the ceiling, I went along to embrace the madness this week. Reader, my glow stick did not glow. But I was offered a £35 seat in the dress circle or a £10 standing ticket. I opted for the £10 standing ticket. Later my phone rang and I was put in a house seat. Lucky, eh.
A representative for A Streetcar Named Desire said that 83% of all its tickets have been sold at £100 or under. Hm.
Still, the average face value of top-price tickets in the West End has rocketed by a fifth since 2019, a recent survey by The Stage revealed. Glancing at a handful of West End shows £1-300 stalls seats are sadly standard now.
Of course, this fluctuates year on year and is frequently influenced by a small number of high-profile shows. Last year, Cock – starring Jonathan Bailey – saw producers disastrously try and flog £400 tickets, stating it was based on “supply and demand”
What are we to conclude from this?
As in many economic situations, there is a squeezed middle: theatre lovers who are neither wealthy enough to buy premium tickets and who don’t have a flexible work / life pattern to queue in person or online for discounted tickets.
Surely, extending personalised pricing to students or the unwaged, which was widespread in the 1980s, would maximise audiences. That said, personalised pricing can be progressive. In Finland, for example, speeding tickets are based on your income.
All the same, I worry that we shall soon reach the point of no return, that the gap between the commercial and subsidised sector is growing ever wider and that the young will be put off by high prices. Of course, the system is broken, it’s not working for weary audiences.
But it’s not just the rising ticket prices that worry me. It’s also the sense of banality afflicting the West End. There are, as ever, 33 musicals of varying quality currently running. We should ponder both the escalating cost of tickets and the actual quality of what is on offer.
Anyway, I’m with singer Neil Young who last week said it best: “It’s over” and that “the old days are gone” amid wider consternation at ticketing company’s pricing policies. And that is where we are.
Since the success of the subsidised and commercial sectors are intimately bound, it can’t just be left to subsidised theatre to take responsibility for building tomorrow’s audiences, the West End has to play – and pay – its part too.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs until 6 May