Update! (0ne day later) I thank everyone who emailed Dude You Have No Idea about this general topic to Clueless Me. Yeah, I had no idea. Wow. At this point I'm just processing the info. I had no idea.
This is prompted by what happened when I went to see Burton on the final night of its post-Fringe extension at Theater Asylum. I was *thrilled* to be able to see it, as scheduling prevented me from catching it during Fringe and I'd heard all sorts of raves for it during the festival. All those raves were spot-on. This show was great! My general obsession with Wales aside, this show was truly wonderful.
What happened to get in to see the show, not so much. The more I think about it, the more irritated I become.
I go to the theater. I hand over $15 to the nice lady running the box office who, during the welcome-and-how-many-tickets-do-you-want-and-o-hey-weren't-you-in-the-Fringe friendly general chatter, identifies herself as being attached with Theater of Note. I mention this because I think it's important. ToN is one of the outlets with a solid, well-earned reputation for staging excellent work. I've seen a few shows there over the years.
I take my program that serves as a ticket, go outside to have a cig, get tired of standing outside, go back into the lobby to wait until they open the house. Also in the lobby are two Elders with accents. One was classic British, but I couldn't quite place the other one. I zone out on the CrackBerry reading the New York Times.
Two men come in. They don't have enough cash between them for the $15 each ticket price, the venue does not take cards, they're wondering about location of ATMs and doing the I'll-cover-this-you-can-get-the-next when the box office lady says something I didn't catch that makes them go "o great!" And they leave. Because I happened to be standing outside earlier when one of them was calling a third person to let her know that they were there and waiting for her, I think nothing of it.
But then it happens again. It actually happens several more times. The lady wearing all white and holding flowers. The big guy with the messenger bag. The guy who asked about Equity discounts and was told no. The woman with curly brown hair the box office lady clearly knew personally.
I start paying attention and notice that the people who go back outside instead of buying a ticket? They aren't leaving. They're just hanging around outside. The one thing she said to all of them was "rush".
Time passes. The baseball hat guy formally opens the house. Before I go in I walk up to the box office lady from Theater of Note and ask "what is a rush?"
Her momentary fluster indicates that's not a question she wanted to be asked. But to her credit, after she explains what it is she offers me one. I decline on principle. But I do say That's Good To Know in a tone indicating Sister Crucible Level Disapproval.
It turns out that for this show a rush is a $5 ticket. It's not an professionals-only discount such as Equity (which I have no problems with), it's open to anybody who either knows to ask, or whom the box office lady felt worthy enough to be told about it without prompting.
So. Four of us in the audience paid $15 full price (or internet-outlet half price). The rest of them, about 11 people, got in for $5. Among them were:
- One of the writers for LA Theater Review, which had already reviewed Burton during its Fringe run, so this person wasn't attending for work. Update/correction! (one day later) Turns out this person used the student discount, not the rush. End update.
- One of the big guns for another local theater. This person sat with the LATR writer; because I don't know this person's name and I'm not sure which of the two theaters I *think* said person is attached to, vague description.
- Five actors - at least two of them Fringe participants.
- The two guys and the woman they were waiting for, who sat in the row in front of me.***
- The woman in white with the flowers.
I don't know who the big guy with the messenger bag was, and I don't know who the two people who came in after the show had started were.
All I know is I sat there watching the rush people come in after the house was on to them while thinking YOU?! $5?! SERIOUSLY?!
The box office lady from Theater of Note knew that I had been a Fringe participant (she brought it up out of the blue), but unlike all of those other people whom she clearly viewed as Legitimate, she didn't offer up the $5 rush information to me. I admit that once I realized what was going on that was an Ego Bruise. I'm not proud for feeling that way. I should just let it roll off and under the bridge. But it bothers me, and my personal standards of Full Disclosure requires me to mention it.
Watching this unfold, I realized I've seen this before over and again at small theaters I have been to over the years, but didn't know what was happening. This time I asked, and I'm glad I did.
It appears that the same theater people who bitch and moan that Nobody Comes To See Our Shows and O Woe Where Is Our General People Audience and Curse You Goldstar?
Given a choice, they won't even pay half-price to see a show!! What's the word for that? O yes. That's the word. Hypocrites.
If these theater people won't even support each other at (reasonable) full price, or at easily accessible half-price, why should I as general audience member bear that full price burden? Why should I be blamed when other GA like me don't show up in suitable numbers to fill the house? Why should I feel guilty for occasionally using the half-price ticket outlets?
I shouldn't. Seriously. I know this now.
Me, the General Audience Type local theaters claim to be desperate to attract. Attendance price for me (clearly a goomba) who goes to see as much as possible and budgets for it? $15. Price for theater people insiders? $5.
And the offer of the pricing differential is blatant once you know what you're listening to these theater people say to each other. Once I worked out what was going on it was like a flashback montage. I realized that this sort of insider exchange had happened right in front of me ever so many times in the past, but I was too stupid to clue into what was happening.
Free-range money is not something I have readily available. There's tons of stuff I can't go see because I can't afford it (even at half price if it's offered).
I'm also wondering WHY ON EARTH would anyone sit there and offer rush tickets unprompted to certain folks in clear view/hearing of the four people who paid full price or internet discount price? That's just a dick move. That's a dick move from somebody attached with a high-reputation venue who should know better. It's called discretion.
Though the Burton experience made me feel like the biggest sucker in the world, on the upside I finally grock some of the weird reactions I got during Fringe when some producers were Hey You're A Panelist You Can Come For Free and I told them I had already bought a ticket to their show, in some cases weeks before Fringe opened.
Every single show I saw at Fringe I paid for. Every single one. I saw 13 shows. I bought tickets to shows I didn't get to see due to scheduling, but I bought them just in case. I did not go back to those producers and ask for a refund. I paid either full price ahead of time, or full price/participant discount during the run once unexpected openings emerged in my schedule and those participant discounts started popping up like weeds, allowing me to fit in what I called Bonus Shows. Two shows I donated a little bit of money to above ticket price because I wanted to support what they were doing in some small way.
I thought that was part of the point - to actively and directly support independent creators of live theater. I was very happy to do so, and since that's how Ignorant Me thought things worked for local theater in general, Fringe ethos in particular, I didn't give it a second thought.
Apparently that's unusual. Boy the things you learn only by being on the other side of the fence.
So now I have an Ethical Quandary. From this point forward when I go see an independent or blockbuster corp theater show, do I pay full price, Goldstar/Stage Alliance price, or do I ask for Rush? Do I compromise my ethics now that I know what the theater people are doing for each other?
Do I behave like them when I get to the box office, or do I behave as I feel we all should to support the Big Picture whole?
The guy behind Burton came in from Wales to do his show for the Fringe. My general obsession with Wales aside, my feeling is if somebody comes from that far away and deals with our nation's ridiculous visa system in order to present his work, you fucking pay for your ticket, and if you can you pay full price.
To borrow a phrase - Do The Math. Four people at $15 (or possibly half-price internet outlet discount). Nine to 11 people at $5. Almost every single one of the $5 people was somehow connected to the local theater scene, and each of them was specifically given a heads-up about the rush option by somebody from a high-profile theater outlet running the box office. That performer did not make the money he could have because his own people refused to pony up an additional $10 for the base price. To me this matters because, like several of the international acts, he probably spent far more money than he earned back just to be here for the first Hollywood Fringe Festival. To me, somebody from overseas taking that sort of financial risk means far more than the locals taking the same risk. Locals don't have to cover travel/housing/visa expenses.
When I go to the Arclight they never say Wait 10 Minutes And We'll Let You In For $5. So why do the live theater people do it? And why do the live theater people let the offer be known only to each other? And why do they then turn around and whine that their houses aren't full, or that they hate 2-for-1, or that they hate Goldstar?
Why not just let everybody in for rush, or for pay what you can, or for free? I know the answer to that, of course. I'm just trying to make a point. If you won't stand with your own people when the ticket prices are reasonable, then why the fuck should I?
I feel like a sucker. I do. For years this has been going on right in front of me, but I didn't know until now. I'm kinda pissed off about it.
And yet, I already know what I'm going to do about it. Behave as I think I should, or join the hypocrisy? That's my choice. I'm glad my eyes have been opened, but I'm going to stick to the path.
Dude. That man was right. Ignorance is bliss.
*** At one point during the show one of the men in that trio started reading his program sheet, holding it up a little bit to catch the light. ! WTF ! I noticed it, and I could tell the performer noticed it. Because you were trying to read you didn't notice him looking RIGHT AT YOU during the entire time you were reading your program. I would just like to say that was so fucking rude! The way the lights ran for this show Rhodri Miles (the actor on stage) could see us all, and during this particular point of the show he was sitting directly in front of these three, who were in the second row. The only reason I did not lean over and snatch the program from that rude fucking guy's hand is I because knew that action would cause a greater disturbance. Whoever you are? You're not sitting at home watching tv. Have a little modicum of respect for the person throwing down and En Vivo less that five feet from you.