Why do Broadway tickets cost so much? I feel like I've been asking this question my whole life, but prices continue to rise like an entertainment arms race.
For instance, if you'd like to see Denzel Washington in August Wilson's Fences, a premium ticket goes for $351.50. Denzel's a great actor performing a great play, but for that kind of money a family of four can spend the day at Disney World.
One Broadway producer who asked not to be named explained it this way: "It's insane. They're charging the most they can get away with."
Even more bewildering are the numbers. Top seats to most shows go for $116.50, or $121.50 or $126.50. Do producers think theatergoers will round down in their heads, thus gaining an extra $1.50?
I asked Broadway producer Ken Davenport, author of a refreshingly candid blog, to explain the economics of the Great White Way. "Most Broadway shows cost between $300,000 and $600,000 a week to run," he said, "with the bulk of the costs going to advertising and theater rental. At 1,500 seats, do the math."
I did. Wicked, for instance, reportedly has an operating cost of $800,000, but has grossed over twice that. The creative team typically splits 6% of the gross, leaving the rest for the producers and investors, meaning that their portfolios are truly defying gravity.
So it's understandable why producers would charge as much as they can. But why do audiences go for it? One theory is that audiences won't buy cheap tickets because they assume something's wrong with the seats; that no one wants a $61.50 ticket to a $121.50 show, but they will buy a $121.50 ticket at half price because they feel like they're getting a bargain. Indeed, audiences feel the need to justify paying exorbitant prices, which is why they give standing ovations even if the show stinks like old fish.
Fortunately, those of us who like to see New York theater on a budget have solutions. We can wait on line at Times Square's TKTS Booth, which finally takes credit cards, or find discounts of up to 45% at broadwaybox.com, theatermania.com or playbill.com.
Or we can earn our tickets by ushering. Broadway shows have professional ushers, but non-profit theaters performing on Broadway use volunteers. That means you could have seen two of the season's most acclaimed performances -- Linda Lavin in Collected Stories and Sherie Rene Scott in Everyday Rapture for free. Many Off-Broadway theaters also use volunteer ushers.
And for those willing to go more off-beat than Off-Broadway, full price doesn't have to equal your weekly take-home pay. For just $20 you can see the unexpectedly moving Puppy Love: A Stripper's Tale at P.S. 122, in which writer/composer/actress Erin Markey hangs upside down from a pole wearing a diaper and a baby bonnet while playing a toy piano.
No matter how much you spend you'll never see Denzel do that.
And that, my friends, is The Upside.
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