Another Crazy Idea

Back in July I posted an entry about how internet sites were limiting access to their content through various means. At the end of the entry, I promised to think upon it and post a follow up later.

Well, here I am posting a follow up.

I had hoped to do a little more reading on consumer psychology before posting, but it doesn’t look as if that might happen any time soon. Since I posted last week about how new media entertainment was taking a page from live performance’s book, I figured that was enough reason to post about how we should steal a little bit from them.

At the end of my entry in July I had posted that the only way I could see arts organizations doing something similar was if the first part of the show was free and then re-entry after intermission cost the ticket price.

The more I thought about it, the less crazy it seemed. (Though granted, was still crazy.) Performing organizations frequently have free performances to try to lure people in, why not partially free performances? Also, there are a number of performing arts companies that have fundraising appeals that point out that the ticket price only pays for the show until intermission. This turns that around so you can claim the sponsors paid for you to get in the first act, now the rest of the show is up to you.

Will people go home at intermission feeling they have gotten their fill? Perhaps. Performances with a plot of some sort would probably fare better than a collection of repetory pieces. A novice theatre attendee is probably more likely to feel a need to go see the end of Death of a Salesman than a novice symphony attendee might feel compelled to hear a Mozart piece based on the Bach he heard in the first half of the evening.

On the other hand, reading the psychology of decision making scenarios Andrew Taylor presented back in May, I could see a newbie deciding that after getting a babysitter, driving and paying for parking, maybe it is worth paying for the second half.

Museums, I am still at the same place, sorry. Best I could suggest is a small exhibit in an antechamber with the ability to pay to enter the exhibit proper after getting a taste of it.

For performances, this sort of suggestion opens big cans of worms, even for those who might experiment with it only once a year to see how audiences like it.

First of all, there is front of house-instead of letting the box office and part of the usher staff go home after the show starts, their fun just begins at intermission.

Also, if you have reserved seating how do you handle that? Subscribers and those who know and trust the quality of your works will have purchased their tickets for the whole night’s performance in advance. But say that only fills up to the tenth row.

At intermission, the guy who got row Z is the first one out of the theatre because he is closest to the back, runs to the box office and buys tickets in row K so he can get closer. Guy in that seat in row K for the first act is annoyed. God forbid and people actually enjoy the show so much they start leaving during the first act to secure tickets closer to the stage.

A lot of theatres use bar code readers now so people can print of tickets at home. While you could use this and only charge people who scan in after intermission, you would then have to force people to scan in by 5 minutes to curtain so you could sell the vacant seats to people waiting at the box office before intermission was over (and of course, most empty seats will be singles and most people wanting seats will be in a party.)

Something like this would be best used either with General Admission audiences or for shows you know will be 80% sold so that you can set aside specific seats for this program and have no need to worry that you might end up with a gulf of 10 rows between your full night buyers and the half night taste testers.

The other issue is artistic-Do you end the first act with a bigger bang than necessary in hopes of luring people back for the second act even though the second act isn’t as exciting as the end of the first act lead them to believe? (I am looking at you Phantom of the Opera)

Then there are shows that are so short, an intermission makes no sense. Some shows are structured in a way that an audience loses its involvement in the momentum of the action if an intermission occurs.

Still, I have to think that there are some organizations out there for whom this sort of scheme might be just the thing they need to excite a community and provide an introduction to what the company does.

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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