So I was a little premature in some of my recent declarations. My bemoaning the fact that no one applied to be my assistant was a couple hours premature. Three people actually applied for the position on the very last day, though two of them didn’t have a complete application packet and so may end up disqualified if they don’t move their butts. (Given that I suspect one of the incompletes was submitted by a person we alerted to the requirements two weeks before it was advertised, this does not bode well.)

My other premature gripe was in regard to low ticket sales for the show. It seems word of mouth trumps two 6pm newscasts and thousands of dollars in advertising.

The second week of the show was a little better than the first–Thursday performance had 40 tickets presale, we sold about 100 at the door. Friday performance had 50 tickets presale Thursday night, 80 sold by the time the box office closed for the afternoon–then we were swamped by an unexpected 250 people at the door. We hadn’t brought staffing on for those numbers so we had a very long line and ended up holding the show for a bit. Saturday night we were smarter–we had 100 sold in advance and about 300 people showed up at the door. We had the right staffing so there was no line.

This brings up the fairly recent question about how performing arts organizations can get people to purchase a little earlier. Many theatres hate the fact that no one is buying subscriptions. At this point, I would be okay with that if they would only buy a week or so ahead of time.

It makes it extremely difficult to balance good customer service with economy. If you cut back on staffing for a night and you get swamped, then people have a negative impression of you because the service suffers. However, if you are paying a full staff and few people show up, then there is negative impression left on your bank account.

The box office manager suggested having one price in advance and another at the door. In my experience, saving $2-$3 in advance hasn’t been an incentive to buy in advance. However, she clarified and suggested we have a higher flat rate price at the door for everyone. Instead of $22 adults, $15 students, and then $25/$18 at the door, she is suggesting we charge $25 for everyone at the door. Given that most people claim a student/senior/military discount when they purchase tickets, saving $10 might be an incredible incentive to buy early.

On the other hand, if people aren’t thinking about what they are going to do until the last minute, they won’t know they missed the opportunity until they pick up the paper/go on line and suddenly discover they have to pay $10 more, the pricing structure becomes a huge disincentive to attend.

What I and all the other theatre managers want to know is–when are most people making their decisions? If it is on Wednesday, then this is a strong incentive to buy early. If it is 5pm on Friday, then this is a strong incentive to go rent a movie.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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