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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.

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