Price points

December 17, 2007
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One of the productions I’ll be reviewing in the next IBJ is “Assassins,” the Stephen Sondheim musical staged by the new Indy-based company Lowbrow Productions (information at

Something I probably won’t be mentioning in the article: The fact that reserved tickets are only $15.

My question: How much does ticket or admission price impact your decision making when it comes to the arts? Have you gone to the Indianapolis Museum of Art more often since it reverted to free admission? In Indy, does a higher ticket price translate directly into a higher quality experience? Do you judge a show on its own merits or do you factor in the price you paid?

If every museum and every performing arts group in town suddenly cut its ticket price in half, do you think there would be a significant rise in attendance?

And, in some cases, is the opposite true: Do we value something more if we paid more for it?

  • Good Question!

    While I know tickets on Broadway have gone up to incredible heights, I am always taken aback as to how much the shows cost here. I realize it takes a lot to move shows around from city to city, but when you're getting no-name talent (even though they may be better than named talent), it is hard to swallow paying that much for another rendition of Camelot.

    As for the IMA, I love just being able to browse there, which makes the free admission all the better. I am certainly happy to pay for special exhibits, but I think it is a major incentive to have the rest of the museum for free.

    I really do not equate cost with quality, but I am also willing to pay for it if has a track record for high quality, like say Dance Kaleidescope.
  • In the best of all possible worlds, non-profits would try to claw their way to at least break-even status through earned revenue.

    Unfortunately, most of the non-profits I have been associated with are not making progress in raising the percentage of earned revenue.

    Reducing ticket prices will most likely not lead to an increase in earned revenue and we will continue to be inundated with requests for gifts to these non-profits.

    IOW, let's lean on producers to rely more on the market-place than on charitable contributions.
  • If every museum and every performing arts group in town suddenly cut its ticket price in half, do you think there would be a significant rise in attendance?

    No. At least not for all, and permanent cuts wouldn't help anybody in the long run. There are plenty of tickets in town that are pretty cheap as it is. The Phoenix offers half price tickets for the first weekend of every show (at least I think they still do that) - its regular tickets are only $25 anyway, which for an evening of all-professional theatre is really not bad at all. I know it's had some impact on their audiences - you'd probably have to ask Tom Robertson there - but it's probably not bringing floods of extra folks through the door if they weren't already planning to come.

    What it comes down to is this: People will pay as much as they perceive the value of the experience to be. I'm consistently amazed that working folks in Indy can scrape together the money for Colts tickets, which make the price of a show at the IRT, or even a touring show at the Murat or Clowes look pretty paltry.

    My friend used to work as a marketer for Playwrights Horizons in NYC, and he said one of the main pieces of market research that he did was to find out the dollar value for ticket prices that balanced affordability with a perception of value. (Of course, covering costs is always a necessary consideration, but this is just the market research part.) Price something too cheap, and people will perceive that it must not be of very good quality.

    Arts organizations with an established reputation for high quality (and many of which do have higher prices already) can probably benefit more from occasional discounts than those that are lesser known or trying to gain a foothold. Especially if you're trying to build a name for yourself, you don't want to sell yourself short by setting too low a ticket price - people won't think you're taking yourselves seriously and probably won't take you very seriously as a result.
  • I'm no expert on this, but I think the price of admission is secondary to the inconvenience of attending. If parking is problematic, if it is raining, if the seats are cramped, if the previous experiences include rude audiences, etc., I at least am less likely to attend a performance. I paid $165+ for 3 Spam-a-lot seats, but the overall experience was great. If a show costs under $20 a seat but I have a miserable experience just being there, I won't go back.
  • For those on fixed incomes and time to attend, the prices are very important. Associated prices, such as parking, are also important.
  • We don't worry too much about prices, but a few years ago Petula Clark brought the musical Sunset Boulevard to Clowes. My husband still complains about the $80 we spent for a show that fell short in so many ways... I listened to her (great pipes) and could only long for Glenn Close, or someone who could act the role.
    Locally, considering what royalties are for any show that's produced, the ticket pices are more than reasonable. BUT--many people I know are passionate about not missing a performance in town, and their wallets are hit harder than they'd like. Joyce has a point about the inconvenience of attending, parking, seating.
  • All the best theater I've ever seen has been less than $10. The variety of theater in a town like Chicago is nothing short of awe inspiring. Anything over $10 and it better be something really phenomenal, something I couldn't see anywhere else.

    And I wouldn't pay $80 for anything unless they brought out the bones of Shakespeare.

    I am the type who goes to the Children's Museum monthly, the IMA 4 times a year, and the zoo twice in the summer. That's my thing.

    The best theater I ever saw was in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival there. One show took place in a public restroom.

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