#13. Butts in Seats and Selling the Tickets to Put Them There
by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas
A playwright friend told me a story about how her first play was a week from opening when she realized they hadn’t accounted for how tickets were going to be sold. That’s TOO LATE! Once you’re in rehearsals (and regardless of how they’re going) you should already be selling them, or at least figuring out how to.
There are lots of ways to sell tickets; too many, really. So, if your budget allows, this is where you might be best served by hiring a box office manager or combo box office manager/ticketing person/”front of house” manager. This person should know how theatre tickets get sold in your town and have the experience to help you choose the best, easiest way to do it. And when I say best and easiest, I mean best and easiest for your potential customers, i.e., your audience; not you. Because believe me, they’re different.
Have you ever showed up to something, expected to buy a ticket and been told they only take cash? Or you’re online and whatever site you’re on doesn’t take a certain credit card? If you don’t want to lose a prospective customer, you want to make it easy for him or her to buy a ticket. If you don’t care about selling tickets or have such a small house, short run and built in audience that it’s not worth setting up multiple ways for people to buy tickets, then forget all this. But that’s not most plays and certainly not most plays that are self-produced.
I recommend some combination of making tickets available online, by phone and at the door. Sounds simple but stay with me. Figuring out what will work for you isn’t hard, it’s just one of those time consuming jobs that needs to be done.
Starting with the online ticketing sites, there are several to consider. Brown Paper Tickets is what we used http://www.brownpapertickets.com/createevent.html. You decide your ticket price and how many tickets will be available through this outlet. It allows your ticket purchasers to enter discount codes (that you disseminate via any number of ways) and keeps track of it all. At any time before online sales close before a given performance, you can see how many tickets have been sold and who bought them using which codes. Then there’s Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.com which is similar in functionality but seems to be used for more “one off” types of events. And there are others popping up all the time. Each of these sites takes a percentage of ticket sales and will deposit net proceeds into a bank account or via other means such as a PayPal account that you choose at the set-up stage.
In LA, we have a more full-service site called Plays-411 https://www.plays411.net/newsite/ticketagency/ticketagency.asp It offers ticketing as well as other services to producers, including email blasts about your show that go out to their lists and “hosting’ your show’s informational page, which can serve as your website if you choose not to get a dedicated URL for your show as we did with villathrilla.com. On that page you can provide reviews, cast member info, pictures and the like. Publicists like it because they can go into the site and directly book Press tickets. We didn’t use Plays-411 though a lot of producers do. But I recommend due diligence. Not only do they take an up front fee plus a percentage of sales, several producers I talked to say Plays-411 can take longer to pay producers for tickets sold. Brown Paper Tickets paid within a few days of a performance. The amount of lag time can be critical if you are hoping to use ticket sales to pay actors and other expenses in the later weeks of your show.
You’ll also want to register with Goldstar http://www.goldstar.com/company/suppliers, which has become the go-to place to search for discount tickets. If your graphics and logline grab people here, you can even pull in people to your show that might never have learned about it otherwise.
Something else a producer must consider in Los Angeles apropos ticketing is the Ovation Awards, managed by the LA Stage Alliance. http://lastagealliance.com/tix/) To be considered for an Ovation, you need to be a member (or affiliated with a member theatre as we were) and your show needs to run for at least 6 weeks. You also need to make it available to Ovation voters for free. They will then use this outlet to reserve their tickets. Additional discounted tickets can be made available here too, though we didn’t pull in anyone other than voters from this site.
All of these outlets will get your show in front of prospective ticket buyers and give them an opportunity to buy. But I’m sure you can see the downside to having multiple outlets: Checking in with each of them to determine how many tickets have been sold for a given performance. This can be a headache and even a nightmare if you have a hit show, though granted a good nightmare to have. You have to decide how many tickets you will give each outlet to sell at what price, sometimes changing that number if one site is running low. Invariably mistakes get made and you and your various outlets have created a situation where more tickets have been sold than you have seats. The whole thing requires monitoring and that takes time.
Then there are phone and “at the door” sales, and believe me, there is a large, generally older segment of the population that still prefers one of these two means. They just feel better talking to a real person. We didn’t want to pay for a new phone number or use our own. So we got a free phone number through Google, which allowed us to both set up an informational outgoing message and allowed callers an opportunity to leave a message. We’d then pick up the messages and call people back to take a credit card number for their ticket purchase.
As for sales at the door, we accepted cash, check and credit cards through our Square account. There are a lot of different mobile credit card applications now so again, choose the one best for you and your customers. Percentages vary but I don’t think you don’t need to sign up for more than one of these.
We had a master list for each performance compiled that afternoon from all the different outlets we were using so we knew who to expect. As people arrived, we gave them programs for entry. This is what most theatres in LA do these days. With most people buying tickets online and having the ability to print a receipt, there’s really no need to print up tickets. But if you want to, there are plenty of services that will take your money.
In closing, whatever means you choose to offer tickets to the public, may you sell out your houses and make your nut back!
Next up: We are winding down but there are still lots of topics to cover. Is there any aspect of Self-Production you’d particularly like to hear about?