Off-Broadway: Long Tails, Affordable Tickets
07 Jan, 2011 - Brian Watkins
A great quandary in the arts world is: how do you make programming affordable for all? If we truly believe in the importance and necessity of art, then it goes without saying that art should be sold with an egalitarian price tag. The last few holiday seasons have been characterized by lighter wallets, so it is encouraging to find that some arts institutions – namely those that were previously typified by audiences donned in fur coats and monocles – are beginning to offer creative alternatives in an attempt to diversify audiences.
The theatre world in New York is beginning to reap the effects of a long-tail culture. That is, different theatre companies and collectives are reaching niche markets of people who are interested in very specific styles of art. Off-Broadway is capitalizing on this new demand trend, while Broadway is still lagging behind, trying to fit their content into a one-size-fits-all product.
Off-Broadway has a more flexible structure, offering something for everyone. If you want to see something new and edgy you can go to Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. If you want to see something experimental and collaborative-based, you can go to SoHo Rep. If you want to see a re-envisioned classic, you can go to Classic Stage Company. Ars Nova is great for comedy and camp. MCC is an‘emotional powerhouse’ kind of place. And so on and so forth.
But it goes even smaller. Like the iTunes “listeners also bought” feature, the downtown theatre scene is made up of splinter groups known for pushing the boundaries of narrative and storytelling. The Amoralists, The Debate Society, Elevator Repair Service, Nature Theater of Oklahoma, among others are all grassroots collectives producing some of the best new theatre out there.
And Off-Broadway companies are starting to recognize the grassroots/collective appeal. Like indie record companies who found out how to create consumer allegiance through a like-minded aesthetic, Off-Broadway theatres are finally teaming up and sponsoring the work of these collectives to establish new audiences. The Public Theater recently co-produced something from Elevator Repair Service, and SoHo Rep did so with Nature Theater of Oklahoma. This pattern – of grassroots artist collectives teaming with non-profit Off-Broadway companies – is where theatre is headed, whether Broadway is on board or not.
This works best in New York, where space is at a premium. It only makes sense that a myriad of smaller theatres that provide an array of options will thrive, whereas massive theatres might dwindle. Sure, it’s not a lucrative business (has the theatre ever been?), but this trend is increasing as our culture morphs into niche-appeal. In order to support the trend, ticket prices to these smaller theatres have become more democratic and more competitive.
But word isn’t spreading quickly enough. New Yorkers and tourists alike still look first to Broadway when they consider seeing a show. And because of this, the casual theatre-goer still perceives the stage to be too expensive.
So, in an attempt to support the excellent community-reliant art form that is the theatre, here are a number of ways to take advantage of affordable theatre tickets from some of the culture-setting Off-Broadway houses in America’s theatre capital.
For Young Professionals…
If you’re between the ages of 18-35, HipTix is an affordable ticket service through Roundabout Theatre Company, whose shows range from huge Broadway musicals to intimate black box plays. Membership is free. All tickets are $20 or less (I’ve purchased $10 and $15 HipTix via their handy email blasts). Plus, HipTix members can purchase advance tickets and receive invites to exclusive post-show parties. (Monocle and fur coat not required.) You can choose to upgrade your membership to HipTix Gold with a $75 tax-deductible contribution, which ensures two orchestra level seats to every HipTix show.
If you are a theatre artist or under the age of 30, a $30 tax-deductible Vineyard Theatre membership will get you $15 tickets to every single show. This, out of all deals in New York, is one of the best. The Vineyard Theatre is at the top of their game, and is arguably producing the best new American theatre out there. Recent productions of The Scottsboro Boys and Middletown prove that the theatre is still alive and well, so long as we’ll go to it. Vineyard Theatre has a sterling reputation that is being elevated each year, so see their shows in their intimate Union Square theatre before they head to Broadway and cost you a fortune.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater – Under 30 Plan
A $20 membership for those under the age of 30 will get you one $15 ticket to each Rattlestick show. In addition, members receive priority booking, invitations to Under 30 Members’ nights with meet and greet with playwright, director, cast, crew and staff, and free admission to all public readings as part of their developmental Evening Reading Series throughout the season, including The Good Plays Festival, TheaterJam and other special events. Rattlestick is known for excellent, edgy, new theatre, where you can see plays from the best up and coming writers.
For students, a $10 membership gets you $10 tickets to all shows. If you bring a friend who is also a student, they can get a $15 ticket. For those who are under 30 but aren’t students, a $20 membership gets you $20 tickets. All tickets can be purchased in advance (no standing in annoying rush and lottery lines). Playwrights Horizons is another great theatre that serves as America’s home for fostering new plays and musicals.
For Smaller Theatres…
Most theatres under 100 seats won’t charge more than $20 for a ticket. If that’s out of your price range, the always-fascinating SoHo Rep has 99-cent seats for all Sunday shows– yes, 99 cents– and PS 122 has “Passports” available for purchase where $55 gets you into 5 shows.
For Everyone Else…
This is for those who prefer to have a wide-array of options. Shows available on TDF range from the most buzz-worthy musicals on Broadway to Off-off Broadway, with a smattering of dance, concerts, and variety shows in between. Full-time students, full-time teachers, union members, retirees, civil service employees, staff members of not-for-profit organizations, performing arts professionals, members of the armed forces or clergy are all eligible for membership, which right now costs $30. Broadway tickets usually cost $25-$35, Off-off Broadway shows cost $9. TDF also houses the famous TKTS booths that are situated around the city. If you don’t have a membership, brave the crowds and find discounted tickets in person. Or, get their brand new TKTS iPhone app to see what’s selling. See their website for more info.
Started by David Mamet and William H. Macy, the Atlantic is a mainstay of the American theatre scene. Plays from Martin McDonagh, Ethan Cohen, Sam Shepard, and Harold Pinter can all regularly be seen at Atlantic. And $15 tickets are available for the first 15 performances of all their shows.
General and Student Rush…
Most, if not all, theatres offer discounted rush tickets on the day of the show. If you are willing to stand in line, in the cold, and risk not getting a ticket, they are a fine way to see great theatre. Most are priced around $20 with a very limited availability. Each theatre’s rush policy differs. For general info on all shows go to the TalkinBroadway.com Rush Board.
Some of the best rush policies are found at 2nd Stage Theatre ($15), Atlantic Theatre, Vineyard Theatre ($20), MCC ($20), MTC ($20), and The Public ($20), which actually has a warm lobby and cafe you can wait in.