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Pasadena's Boston Court theater eliminates unintended freebies

February 24, 2009 |  1:43 pm

A scene from 'Tartuffe' at Pasadena's Theatre @ Boston Court Sorry cheapskates, but there will be no more free lunch, er, seat at the Theatre @ Boston Court.  It'll now cost $5 for a ticket to the bargain matinee at the Pasadena theater.

A "pay what it's worth" offer that had applied one afternoon of each play's run is morphing into an "economic stimulus" discount, starting with this Sunday's performance of Moliere's "Tartuffe." Everyone will pay $5 per ticket, an 85% discount from the regular $32. The box office will open at 1 p.m., an hour before showtime at the 99-seat house.

The "pay what it's worth" experiment, instituted two years ago, is being abandoned because it was a freeloader's paradise. Each attendee would get an envelope on the way in, to be returned after the show with whatever payment seemed a fair value for the experience. "What we started seeing ... was a lot of empty envelopes," said Brian Polak, marketing/development associate of the parent Boston Court Performing Arts Center.

Those free rides began well before the economy took its dive last fall, according to Michael Seel, executive director of the nonprofit Boston Court. But in a down economy, the theater can't afford to give its product away. "We consistently had people showing up and not paying at all, so we decided to put a value on it. There's a value to the arts, and we think $5 is a great value" to the customer.

Under the "pay what it's worth" setup, some people would return their envelopes with $20 or more, Seel said, but overall the proceeds were "slightly lower" than the "pay what you will" option that preceded it.

The lesson in social behavior: give people a chance to hide their stinginess inside an anonymous envelope, and many will take it. Moliere knew a little something about how people behave with money. After all, he wrote the comic classic, "The Miser."

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: A scene from "Tartuffe" at Theatre @ Boston Court. Credit: Ed Krieger/Boston Court.

Comments () | Archives (6)

As someone who has attended several Boston Court productions, the more likely explanation for empty envelopes under the "pay what it's worth" setup -- rather than stinginess -- is that theatregoers did exactly as told.

David, if you think Boston Court productions are worth nothing, why have you attended several?

Brilliant move on their part...arts does have value and anyone who is attending a performance and not paying--even a small amount--doesn't get the value that arts have in our culture and society. Kudos to Boston Court for taking a stand.

Yes, the arts have value - but so do Artists. Boston Court was built as a 99 seat theatre so that stage managers and actors would not have to be put on a contract with their union. Instead they only receive a small stipend and no benefits.
Ryan, perhaps David has attended because he is ever hopeful, or maybe he's part of the industry and is trying to support his colleagues with his presence since they aren't being paid what they're worth. Unfortunately, audiences at 99 seat shows often don't know this, and wouldn't guess it based on the cost of tickets. Sadly, I have to agree with his assessment of the production I saw.

It sounds like your beef if with the 99 seat equity plan and not with a theatre cutting ticket prices to $5. Why would you target this theater as an example of how artists get paid so little when they are known for paying so much more than the minimum required by the union?

The anchor of today's progressive movement is redistribution of wealth. Yet sadly in the industry likely most dominated by progressive "thinking", the top 1% of actors get 99% of the pay. Alas, no redistribution in the thespian world.

A warm place would likely freeze over before these actors would ever see a check from a fellow progressive entering rehab on this evening's "Entertainment Tonight".


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