Info You Can Use: Dynamic Pricing That Doesn’t Alienate

Last week I was reading about some interesting ticketing structures being used by theatre groups in Chicago. Theatre Wit offers what is described as a Netflix subscription model where they provide unlimited admission to their shows for a monthly fee of $36. They also employ dynamic pricing with their single ticket sales and increase the cost based on demand.

What really intrigued me was the model being used by Filament Theatre Ensemble. Instead of selling tickets, they ask people to sponsor an element of the production as the price of their admission.

“In lieu of tickets, customers can sponsor costumes, props, and set pieces, finance two hours of rehearsal space, or pay for the production’s licensing fees. Big-ticket items such as the rent for the performance venue are broken into small portions and spread over the entire run of the show, so that all of items on the website are priced between 10 and 35 dollars. “

What I really loved about this system is that there is dynamic pricing by default but it is presented in a very positive and constructive way. It also provides a degree of transparency about the costs of mounting a production to audiences and gets them invested.

“Seeing as there is a limited number of items available in each pricing category, dynamic pricing is built into the system: once all of the 10–15-dollar items have been sold, patrons have to purchase something in the 15–20-dollar range if they want to see the show. However, contrary to Filament’s expectations, the lowest priced items aren’t the ones that sell first. Patrons are willing to spend a few extra dollars to sponsor something they can identify with—a cool prop, or a distinctive costume—rather than paying a smaller amount that will go towards office supplies…

However, from the company’s perspective it is more important that sponsoring a particular item, instead of purchasing a ticket, increases the audience’s emotional connection with the performance and with the company. Ritchey recounts, “A lot of times people would come up to us after the show and say I got you guys an hour of rehearsal space or I got that costume.” People get excited about what they have contributed to the evening’s performance. In addition to that, viewing all of the elements that go into a production online gives the audience a sneak preview of the show. Having seen all of the costumes and props in advance, the audience immediately feels connected to the production when they recognize those items on stage.”

According to the article, there are still a few issues to work out. Specifically, arranging for admission of people who come to the door to “purchase tickets.” I am guessing given this unorthodox approach, it may be difficult to explain the remaining sponsorship opportunities to those who show up at 5 minutes to curtain and just want to get in rather than choose between a ream of paper and audition space.

I find stories about alternative approaches like these and the one Andrew McIntyre related about Toronto’s Passe Muraille’s Buzz Festival very encouraging. Slowly arts organizations are beginning to discover valid approaches to audience engagement and keeping themselves viable through experimentation.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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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