“I’d like to go, but tickets are just too expensive.”

This has been expressed to me on numerous occasions since I began with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. At first, I was inclined as a newcomer to take their word for it. My responses were something like, “Yeah, that’s a shame.” Or even worse, “Oh really? I’m so sorry.”

But as I explored the DC/Metro Area, this complaint started to seem unreasonable. And it eventually made me wonder: How does a Friday evening at the Kennedy Center Opera House differ in cost with other possibilities around DC?

On February 26th, the world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet from St. Petersburg, Russia will be performing “Raymonda”, one of the highest-regarded gems in the ballet repertoire. (And as the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra is the designated orchestra for touring ballet company performances at the Kennedy Center, I am looking forward to playing for this.) The starting ticket price is $49, and there are a good number of seats offered at that level.

Ballerina leaps into male ballet dancer's arms in front of large company onstage during a performance.

Let’s say you are deciding between this performance or one of these three common ways to spend a Friday evening. How do they compare?

  • One of the most popular restaurants in DC is Founding Farmers. This classy, farm-to-table establishment offers a fantastic experience every time, and their menu is delicious without breaking the bank. They serve your favorite cocktail, The Clementine (Chili-infused tequila with Benedictine, lime, pineapple, and agave). So, you start with a Clementine ($12) and the Blue Cheese Bacon Dates ($10), then you move on to the Sausage Mushroom Gnocchi ($17). These three items, plus 20% tip and tax, come out to be $51.74.

Hey, that’s more than that ballet ticket.

  • Or maybe you’ll check out a hockey game at the Verizon Center. The Capitals are playing the Minnesota Wild. If you want to sit in the highest, furthest-back nosebleed section of this 18,000-seat stadium, a ticket is going to cost $38. True, that’s $11 less than the ballet. But all it takes is one can of beer to close that gap. (I’m not exaggerating. Check out the menu from 2014.) And truthfully, when’s the last time you went to a sports game without paying a visit to the concession stands?
  • Perhaps a restaurant or a sports game isn’t your choice. Maybe you’d rather do a night of club hopping. On a Friday evening, cover charges can range from $5 to as much as $20. And in DC, you can reasonably expect to pay at least $10 for drinks. All it takes is two drinks and two cover charges, and you can plausibly exceed that $49 ballet ticket.

So, here we have three very common Friday evening scenarios in which you are likely to spend as much money, or more, than a ticket at the Kennedy Center. Of course, you’d also need to consider incidental expenses, such as parking, based on your own unique situation when calculating costs. But in DC, it has been my experience that those are pretty consistent for all of the above options. And just to be clear, I’m not looking to paint Founding Farmers, the Verizon Center, or dance clubs in a negative light. They are all wonderful places to enjoy a night on the town. In fact, you might even find me at Founding Farmers after the ballet enjoying a Clementine!

So the next time someone says that a ticket to a performing arts venue is too expensive, I encourage you to remember these three comparisons.

But I also urge all of us performers and performance-lovers to advocate for that ballet ticket beyond its cost.

“Raymonda” is a masterpiece through which artists have expressed themselves and moved audiences since 1898.  This Mariinsky Ballet performance will exhibit some of the most refined and beautiful achievements of the human body. It can offer the audience member a very necessary break from their world outside of the Opera House. Or, for those who don’t want to hit the “pause button” on life, it can be three hours of sheer bedazzlement.

Whatever the takeaway—dance, music, storyline, costumes, set design, lighting– all these elements of the ballet have the power to come together and present something that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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18 thoughts on “Dollars and Sense”

  1. Congrats on the excellent blog, Doug!!! From one of your proud trombone teachers!
    In Detroit, we have the same challenge; convincing all the rabid sports fans that they should try a date night at the symphony sometime! The hurculean effort to attract diverse audiences leads to the unfortunate occasional plastic glass tinkling to the floor during a soft spot in the music…but if allowing cocktail in the seats leads to better ticket sales, I’m all for it! Three Clemintines for the trombone section, bartender!!!

    • I think it’s great your orchestra allows for patrons to bring beverages into the hall. It makes the experience more relaxed and inviting. I’m curious, has there been any research done to see if there’s been a difference in drink sales? Thanks for the kind note, and hope all is well.

  2. Dougie! Such a great post and so well written. I was just comiserating with an old friend of mine how we blow through $100-$200 on a given night between dining out and getting drinks (shh don’t tell my Dad 😉 ). The comparisons you use are not only relevant, but also so much less valuable than 2-3 hours of silencing your phone, escaping from reality, and relishing in the talents and pasions of others. Furthermore, the Minnesota Wild suck with the 2nd worst record in the Central Division of the Western Conference. Who is paying $38 for nosebleeds? While you probably don’t want that drunken befoolery of a demographic in a classy establishment like the Kennedy Center (my words not yours), I love the idea of the group package of 4 or more. Better yet, it would be great if it wasn’t limited to families. I am 27 years old and think it would be much more appealing to a group of my friends to all pay $40 if we could pool together 4 or more people. That is 4 more people exposed to the facility and performers and at least $160 in revenue that probably wouldn’t be realized otherwise. How’s that for some early morning mental math! Again, love the post and couldn’t be more proud.

  3. Hi Dougie! Great post, and look forward to reading more!

    I wonder how much being able to have a conversation during a night out (hockey game, dinner) has to do with the choice someone makes to go to a different event vs. a classical music concert…

    Love, one of your number eins fans.

    • Vielen Danken, Beth! 🙂 It’s a good point, apples to apples comparisons aren’t applicable (see what I did there?) to every variable. It would be interesting to learn more about why people make their choices beyond money.

  4. Congratulations on your blog and premier post, Doug! Bravo! Makes me want to book a flight to D.C. in late Feb. to take in a performance of “Raymonda”, starring the Mariinsky Ballet…Followed by a Clementine at Founding Farmers, of course! We know what a treat it is to enjoy an evening of classical music/entertainment at the Kennedy Center; it is an experience well worth the price of admission. Truly, the talent and production are spectacular. Looking forward to staying tuned for future posts!

  5. I feel that a hidden issue in all this is the fact that even if one ticket is $50 that for a family with 2 kids that ends up being $200. Maybe a partial answer would be more “Family packages” for things like “Nutcracker”, or something that has family appeal. Even a date would be $100 just for the ticket, animist folks, in my opinion, also do dinner, may need a cab, so it does get pricey.

    • Now that’s an interesting idea. I know most places do discounts for large groups, I wonder if anyone knows of a situation in which a family has been able to get one as well.

  6. Great Blog. Most people who go to a Caps game are not the same who may go to an Opera. I think Opera and Classical music is an acquired taste for the younger audiences. I say that from experience. I never enjoyed classical music until I it was opened up to me through someone else and I’m still learning about it. Opera? Haven’t seen it yet but it’s on my to-do list. Cost? Well, $46 wouldn’t be bad but if the seats are so far away I can’t see the opera I would pay more to sit closer. Yes, I’m older now and can afford it so you’ll see us there sometime when we want to spend the night in DC.

    • Thanks for the props! The Kennedy Center Opera House is an intimate venue, at least in comparison to others around the US–2,350 seats. I saw Book of Mormon in 2013 in the back of the 2nd Tier (highest balcony), and I could see just fine.

  7. Doug, great post. I agree that people who think the arts are expensive don’t compare it with what they spend their disposable income on. Many groups then give tickets away thinking that this will get paying customers in the future. Perhaps. But it bothers me that many of the options you have used to compare are viewed as valuable and worth spending money on but going to the ballet, opera, or symphony is somehow “expensive”.

    • Good morning, Dileep. I’m with you, it’s certainly frustrating to be seen as a “luxury” when we’re so often on par with the cost of things that people frequently spend money on. Have you ever had to deal with the “I’d love to go, but it’s just too expensive” complaint?

  8. Hi Doug, I agree with your comparisons, but tickets for established classical music ensembles are often too expensive in the US for a solidly middle class family, other artists who don’t make a ton of money, lower income people, students of all ages – the list goes on. Often, I look at prices for the Lyric Opera and the cheapest ticket I can find for the night is $50. I can get a Bulls ticket for cheaper than that, depending on the game and time of year. There should be at least a few tickets that are sold at the price of a movie ticket. This diversifies the audience and makes it a lot harder for people to use the “It’s too expensive” line. I know I’m in a different country, but at our theater, the cheapest ticket is 8 or 10 Euros for either a standing section ticket or high up in the third balcony. I understand that a theater isn’t subsidized in the US the way it is in Germany so ticket sales are extremely vital, but offering some lower priced tickets is one way to help bring in a diverse audience. Good luck with the blog and congrats on its launch!

    • Grüß Gott, Geeta! Thanks for the kind words! I think that would be a fantastic idea, and how wonderful that you make that available to your patrons. I’m curious, the patrons who purchase tickets to your performances at the 8-10 Euro level, are they typically in a different demographic? Or are they similar to other ticket-holders, but they just happened to get to the “cheap seats” faster?

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