A Proposal For a New Way Theaters Can Eliminate Subscriptions, Get Advance Bucks and Make Everyone Happy

The mixed-but-very-vocal reaction in the blogasphere surrounding the concept of premium pricing for not-for-profit theaters (let the market decide; think airline tickets) got me to thinking...

...About thinking outsode the box office.

What would I do if I was a managing director of a regional theater such as Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre or the Westport Playhouse, who is seeing the bread-and-butter business model (subscriptions now!) steadily declining?

Turn to a confusing menu of various pricing structures that could drive you nuts? Hell, no. That would just make me as an arts consumer frustrated, mad and would eventually erode my loyalty to that institution.

So how about this idea? Forget subscriptions.

I'll wait now as you get up off the floor.

Ready?

Instead, tell your customers that they can be Theater Depositors. (OK, OK, the name's not so great. I'm still working on that one. How about MyStage Accounts?)

Tell theatergoers that for the new season coming up they can simply open an account and from that account they can buy any ticket at any time. Simple as that. Write a check for $100, they'll get get $115 worth of tickets; $200 and they get $240; $300 they can get $400 worth of tickets; $500 they get $700; $1,000 they get $2,000. Or whatever discounted percent those spreadsheets tell you is viable.

No muss, no fuss. (Is there an app for that?) The more they give, the better the deal (up to a point.) And there could be promotions where the theater can add to some accounts for whatever clever reason their marketing staffs come up with.

So say there's a show coming up they want to see but they want to take the whole family. In the old subscription way they would be stuck with two tickets at a specific performance they decided months earlier. Now they can just buy how many as they like for whatever performance they want and pay for it out of the account.

Say Aunt Tulip and Uncle Leo are suddenly visiting from out of state. What to do? Just get more tickets and pay for them out of your account.

Don't really want to see that solo show about the life of President Polk? Skip it without penalty.

Go to those preview shows and have more money left over in your account. Want that Saturday night orchestra seat? That's going to deplete the account fast.

And so maybe the following year you make your account even larger because you discover it's more fun to go to the theater with a group of friends (they can even reimburse you later and you can get some of that dough back), with folks from the office, your girlfriends, your boyfriends, the book club, your kids whom you want to be more semi-cultured before it's too late.

With this plan, the theater patron now is MORE invested in seeing your shows, figuring out what works best for them, feel they are more in control and  perhaps even bringing others to your theater.

Smart arts consumers may just sniff out an attractive deal (attention savvy shoppers!) but one that won't break your bank and which they can participate at any level. makes a great gift too. (A $100 deposit gift is mighty desirable instead of buying a pair of tickets and guessing which show at what night at what location.)

The account would also make less subscription hassles for the box office staff. Buy your ticket like anyone else, and subtract that money from the account. No more money in the account? Think about upping that figure next season.

Nervous? Use the program in addition to subscribers with the hope that over time the MyStage accounts -- perhaps even offered as a credit card that can also use to purchase concessions, gift shop items and parking -- supplant the subscription model. Keeping it simple is the key.

The big goal is to get that upfront money; if it equals the cash you would normally get from subscribers, then there's no bottom line loss. If it's more, even better, If it attracts MORE and NEW folks to the theater, that's, as Gypsy Rose Lee would say, "Bank night!"