Putting more bums on seats

Philip is an actor and stand up comedian and a regular freelance contributor to The Stage
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Have you heard? Theatre producers are launching a new idea to get more people into their shows by giving free tickets to homeless people. They’re calling the scheme 'bums on seats’.

Okay, so that’s clearly a joke (apologies for the poor taste; I’ll repeat…it’s a joke), but wouldn’t it be great if producers worried less about profit margins and more about providing better audiences for their shows?

I’ve been an actor for over a decade and a stand-up comedian for two years (notwithstanding the previous joke, The Stage once described me as ‘never less than hilarious’).

I have played to huge sold out venues as well as woefully small audiences, and I know which I prefer. Often, the reason for low attendance rates is the total cost of going to the theatre; tickets, travel, programmes, refreshments…but that’s not what this rant is about.

If producers feel the need to sell tickets at a premium rate, then good luck to them, but often these seats haven’t sold by the time the show starts. Wouldn’t it be better to fill those spaces at a reduced standby rate and make a little more money? Or would they rather cut off their noses to spite their faces and make less money while forcing their hard-working casts to perform to empty chairs? Larger audiences mean better performances, which in turn leads to increased future ticket sales when today’s audience share their experience with tomorrow’s theatregoers.

[pullquote]Some profit is better than no profit[/pullquote]

There are, of course, many wonderful theatres all over the country already offering standby tickets. Some restrict the discount to certain demographics such as students, OAPs, Equity members, etc, but why can’t more be done to encourage all theatres to recognise that ‘bums on seats’ are more valuable to them (even at a lower cost) than hoards of empty chairs? Surely producers can’t be so short-sighted as to not have worked out that not selling a £60 ticket is worse than selling that same seat for £10, for example.

Think about people in our industry who go to the theatre as research. Many would go more often if they could do so on an affordable budget. Actors, directors, writers, choreographers, designers and many more are a captive audience, as well as those ‘civilians’ who just like supporting the arts. Theatres would be fuller (and more profitable) if last minute ticket discounts were more widely available.

At the recent Annual Representative Conference, Equity passed a motion stating it would look into encouraging more theatres to offer reduced rates to union members. Wouldn’t it be great if this was something that seemed so obvious to all involved that before long all theatres, especially those receiving public money, appreciated that some profit is better than no profit?