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Tri-State Theater
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paying for Community Theatre - Part 2

As mentioned in yesterday's post, it takes some money to make it possible for a community theatre group to stage shows. For most groups, that money comes from ticket sales.

The question each group has to answer is: how much do we charge for a ticket?

It's a really tough question to answer, and the answer you'd get from most groups is: "It depends."

It depends on where you're staging the show. There's a big difference in the cost of putting on a show at the Clay Center, the Keith Albee or the Paramount, as opposed to a much smaller venue.

It depends on the potential audience for a show. If you're fairly certain you're going to get a big crowd, you can afford to charge less per ticket. If it's a specialized show that only has limited appeal, then maybe you have to charge a little more to cover expenses.

It depends on the cost of the show. If the show is underwritten, or if it's a relatively inexpensive show to stage, you can keep the ticket cost down. If it's an expensive show, requiring lots of sets, costumes and a full orchestra, then your tickets may reflect that.

It depends on your organization. Some charge the same for every show, no matter how big or small the production. Some adjust the ticket price for each show, depending on the factors we've discussed.

Ticket costs can really run to extremes - from just a few dollars per ticket to well above $50 for some professional shows - and for Broadway shows in big demand, that cost can run into several hundred dollars.

I thought it would be interesting to look at what different community theatre groups in our area have charged for tickets recently, and it's interesting to note that, with two exceptions, every group has a different price. Most groups have two prices for tickets - the full cost and a discounted cost for children (or students) and senior citizens. Where two prices are listed below, that's the difference between the two.

This is just a random sampling from recent shows, so don't expect a scientific survey. But here's what I found:

- At the upper end of cost, the Charleston Light Opera Guild charged $20 / $15 for Grease: The Musical. That's not surprising, since it was staged at the Clay Center.

- Our first tie is between Huntington Outdoor Theatre and the Kanawha Players, both of which charge $16 / $10.

- Close behind is our other tie - ARTS and the Charleston Stage Company at $15 / $10.

- Marshall University's Dept. of Theatre has a unique tiered price range, which runs $14 / $12 / $7 / $5.

- Fifth Avenue Theatre's most recent show featured tickets at $10 / $8.

- First Stage Theatre Company's last show went for $8 / $6 (although that base price can vary - High School Musical tickets were $12 / $10).

- And the best bargain around goes to ACTC at $6 / $4.

I guess what it comes down to is this: each group does its best to charge a price that works for its audience, but allows the group to continue presenting shows. Lots of factors have to be balanced out, and more than one group has failed over the years because of a miscalculation along the way.

It would be nice if community theatre could be offered at a cost no more than, say, a movie ticket - but that's just not practical for some shows. So it's up to the audience to look at the price and decide, is it worth it?

You can guess the answer each community theatre group is hoping to hear - "Yes!"