Sunday, July 29, 2012

Price Politics

It's again the time of the year to ponder about the upcoming musical season, and to buy the tickets yet unbought!
It's also the time to get angry about the prices, and to openly weep after spending an unthinkable amount of money on the tickets anyway.

I know seeing theatre in Finland is cheap compared to West End, let alone Broadway. We don't have to pay hundreds for a good ticket. But still - for a system that, thanks to public funding, doesn't have to cover all expenses with the ticket profit - there are some weird things going on.
I suppose theatres should do their best to get us hooked young. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe a person who learns to enjoy theatre at a young age will keep visiting later in their life, instead of thinking theatre's a waste of time only elitists enjoy. However, no student is made of money, and theatre is never as cheap as pretty much any other activity out there. So I suppose keeping the student prices affordable would be a good idea. We fall in love with the genre now and will return to pay the full price a couple of years later.
Sadly, it's not always as simple as that. Student discounts, while they exist, are usually very small. And then there are the theatres that seem to specify in frightening young people away...

Helsingin kaupunginteatteri annoys me the most. According to their logic, people such as students and pensioners simply don't exist from October to December, and for the most of the year, they stop existing on weekends.
HKT has a pricing system where certain months are more expensive than others. Ironically, during the most expensive months, the theatre doesn't offer students the usual 6€ discount (let alone the incredible 2€ discount for pensioners, for that matter). During the most of the time, the discounts only exist during weeks, at weekends everyone has to pay the same price.
HKT, here's the thing: maybe it's surprising, but students also have things to do during the week, just like everyone else. Going to school, for example. So most of us would rather see theatre on the weekend. I think a pricing system like this has some nasty implications. Of course, it may be debated if anyone who really wants to see some play changes their mind because they can't get that 6€ off, but it still sends a message: students are second-grade theatregoers who can be used to fill the empty seats on the days no one else wants to see shows.

Similar attitude lurks in other theatres, too. In Åbo Svenska Teater's Hair, students can get whole four euros off from the best and tolerable seats - and then 11€ off when it comes to the rickety stools where you can see about half of the stage. Sounds fair? It'd be, if they also warned the first-time visitors that they won't be getting a good view. As is, I haven't managed to find any warning on their website. Even though weirdly cheap price is usually an indicator of something being off, I think it's always nice to say that out loud too.
Svenska Teatern with their Kristina från Duvemåla is a lot worse, though. The prices are sheer robbery: the cheapest ticket for the remaining 2012 season costs 45€ for a student. People have complained that you can hardly see the stage from those. Svenska Teatern doesn't like making that fact very clear either, but luckily they'll change the system a bit for 2013: the worst seats will be considerably cheaper. Too bad the most expensive tickets, which compose the biggest part of the auditorium and cost 65€ for students these days, will get more expensive. In theory, I guess if people are willing to pay - and they seem to be, since the show's sold out for months in advance -  you can ask for as much money as you want. But I don't know if asking over 70€ per seat where you can actually see is the best way of making young people interested in your show. I love Kristina to bits (more about that later) but I'll have to think about seeing it multiple times pretty carefully.

RENT at Alexander Theatre also peeves me. Even though RENT is partially starting to morph into a nostalgia trip for people who were teenagers when it first premiered in the 90's, it's still not exactly for senior citizens. So, I was rather surprised to see there's no student discount available, that the tickets cost from 43 to 48€, and that apparently only the more expensive ones can be bought via internet.
Compare to Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble's RENT from 2011: 16€/student. Compare to Aladdin, the other musical premiering in Alexander Theatre this fall: 25€/student. When you remember Aladdin is the Disney one that has a flying carpet, and RENT is the one about poor artists where traditional set design consists of a table and a string of light bulbs... I can't, of course, know the reasons behind the pricing of RENT's tickets (who knows if the production will be filled with pyrotechnics?), but I feel very discouraged to see it for such a bloated price. It's hard to imagine RENT as a theatre event for middle-aged people to sip at their glasses of champagne - but since there's zero effort towards making it affordable for young people, I suppose that's what they're aiming for.

When will we see the first Finnish theatre following in the footsteps of the National Opera and offering students tickets that cost 50% of the normal price?

Other ideas (theatres, feel free to steal): 
Det Ny Teater (Copenhagen) style: discounts for everybody under 25 years old - a student or not.
Ryanair style booking system: book early, pay less.
Last minute discount: big discount if you buy a ticket for a show on the same day. 
Car wash style: get every 6th play for free.


  1. Joku teatteri tääl, vissiin Kansallisteatteri, itseasias käyttää tota saman päivän alennusta! Oliko peräti niin et saman päivän näytökseen sai lipun puoleen hintaan, ei oo siellä tultu pahemmin käytyä joten en oo ihan varma.

    Mut joo, totta turiset. Kallista on D:

    1. Kansallisooppera ainakin, muista en tiedä... Mutta ensi syksyn muuttosuunnitelmani kannalta katsoen tiedän ainakin pari teatteria, joiden soisin ottavan saman systeemin käyttöön! ;D

  2. I agree (again), the system is ridiculous. Offering discounts may look good on paper and in reports, but when in reality the discounts are non-existent, I wouldn't really call it customer service. Tampereen Työväenteatteri sometimes sells last-minute tickets for half price, mostly in late spring etc. when it's getting more quiet. I got my Anna Liisa ticket that way, and they had queue numbers and all and it worked excellently.

    HKT is indeed the most stupid example. I have never seen the theatre full, not even in premieres, so goodness knows it would only be a bonus if they could sell those empty seats at least with some price. It would probably be also nicer for the cast to perform to a more than half-full house. Smaller town theatres usually sell well, because they have about 300-400 seats and it's easier to fill the theatre, and in my experience they also have better discounts. I guess HKT gets so much financial aid that they don't have to sell as many tickets as possible, then...

    1. Quick, let's next discuss the topic "Les Mis: The Greatest Musical of All Times Ever??" to have some differing opinions here! ;)

      Go TTT, hope some others will follow the example soon!
      Yep, seeing HKT full is indeed a rare experience... Wonder if they simply don't care enough to try harder.

  3. Ticket prices! Ticket prices. Oh boy.

    You're definitely right, there's something to be said for getting students and younger people in for your shows (get 'em while they're young!), and student discounts, real student discounts would be great for that. But who actually offers a significant discount for students? I've never even seen a student option when getting tickets for a show here in Houston. When I was in school in College Station, we had an organization that brought in all sorts of professional productions. They played in our two theaters right on campus. It would take me five minutes to walk to one. But even in a relatively small college town where probably more than half of residents are students (some 50,000+!) who are always looking for fun, cheap things to do, student discounts were laughable. $10 off an already expensive ticket is not really that enticing. (However, I went and joined the student organization and got into a whole bunch of shows in return for tearing tickets, ushering, and hanging out with incredibly cool people, so that was quite a deal.) I don't recall there being many sell-out nights, and I'm certain that putting a student in an empty seat for, say, half price would be better than leaving the seat empty and getting nothing for it.

    Then a few weekends ago, my sisters came to visit me. The Lion King was in town, and I suggested maybe we could go. But even the cheap seats in the gallery were too expensive for them (one is a university student, and one just graduated). I could have bought us all three tickets, but that would have been too pricey for me! And when I did go see the show alone later, there appeared to be plenty of empty seats.

    Which leads to another point: families. I don't really advocate young children going to the theater if it's not a kids' show, but I'm talking about older kids. Maybe that $80 ticket would be alright if it was just you, but what if you have a family of four? Suddenly you're looking at a choice between a trip to the theater and putting new tires on your car. And you know what's going to win. I was talking to a coworker, and he said he'd love to take his teenagers to a show some time, but the prices keep him from doing it.

    There's the other side of it, though. It is, after all, a business. If enough seats get sold at the asking price, then that is what they're worth. I don't think anyone cares who's sitting in a seat, or maybe even if there's nobody sitting in the seat at all (don't know how the public funding works) as long as they're still able to reach their monetary goals.

    I heard a pithy saying about baseball fans once: the quality of the fan varies inversely to the price of the seat. When you continually mistreat and outprice your most ardent fans, they stop coming. And while you still may have people at the games, it becomes a different atmosphere. It becomes a "thing to do" or a "place to be seen" where people going don't care so much about watching the action as being cool and being social. That, as a fan, is heartbreaking. So, I suppose, it could be the same for theater. You outprice the people who love it most and make it hard for people who have never been to go, and what are you left with? You still have theater, but you've lost your passionate fans. And it just becomes another thing. I don't know.

    Now is the time where I apologize for writing a rambling essay and basically thinking out loud in your comment box! Sorry.

    1. Got to admit, we don't have it as bad here - Kristina must be the only show in the whole country that competes with those $80 prices...

      Very valid points though, all of these. I don't have much to add!
      Except for thanks for the insightful comment, no need to apologise at all! I love getting long comments - it wouldn't be fair if I were the only person allowed to express ther opinions in this blog!

  4. The ticket prices at Tampereen Teatteri just baffle the heck out of me. Example A: Normal Les Mis tickets cost 58€ and the student discount is a measly 6€ off. Example B: Normal tickets for A Christmas Carol, coming up this winter, cost much less – 30€ – and here, students get 50% off! And of course the supposed Student's Best Friend, the Hevijuuseri card, doesn't apply to the priciest plays. Not that I was getting one anyway, TT's upcoming season (apart from these two plays that I mentioned) seems to be entirely devoted to audiences 40 years old and up -.-

    1. I know, it's ridiculous. I guess they think Les Mis will draw audiences, no matter what price – but still, the ~5 € "discounts" are just pitiful. The theatres should work way harder on getting the kids hooked young!