Money-Saving Ideas for Theater Tickets

Gray is a free-lance writer in Santa Monica who frequently attends theater

Summer is just around the corner. You would love to see a play, but you're saving up for this year's vacation and every penny counts. Is it possible to spend an evening at the theater without blowing your budget?

Fortunately, stage companies all over town understand your dilemma. They want to win friends for the theater by making their shows available at a price most people can afford. With a little advance planning, you can treat yourself to a low-cost theater evening that's just your ticket.

Listed below are some ways you can save money on playgoing:

--Subscription series. Most established theaters offer a subscription package at reduced rates. You can save as much as 30% by subscribing to a full season of plays.

In some cases, as at the new California Music Theatre, (818) 356-SHOW, a season ticket package includes meal discounts at local restaurants. The Los Angeles Theater Center, (213) 627-6500, offers its subscribers restaurant bargains too, along with a quarterly newsletter and reduced rates for LATC poetry readings and seminars.

--Single-ticket discounts. When a theater is set to open a new production, it often sells preview tickets. By seeing a play early, before the reviews are out, you save substantially.

If you fall into a special category, you can save too. The Pasadena Playhouse, for one, (818) 356-PLAY, takes several dollars off tickets for students and seniors. At LATC, a single-ticket discount is extended to students, seniors and members of entertainment-industry unions. The Mark Taper Forum sponsors Project D.A.T.E. (Deaf Audience Theater Experience), (213) 972-7353, which lowers the ticket price of its signed performances up to 44% for the hearing impaired.

Another way to save on playgoing is by organizing a theater party. Most houses give reduced rates to groups of a certain size. Group-sales expert Rosalie Lazarus, (818) 986-2908, who calls herself "L.A. theater's equivalent of a travel agent," can arrange discount tickets for groups of 10 or 20 or more at most local stages. A dedicated theatergoer herself, Lazarus takes pride in finding the right play to suit each group's taste and budget.

--Passes and coupon booklets. A relatively new idea is the coupon booklet or yearlong pass that allows you a range of theater experiences for one low price. You have the flexibility of choosing what you want to see and when, although you must call the theater for reservations. Some possibilities:

At the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, (213) 826-1626, subscribers do not receive tickets for specific productions. Instead they are allowed to choose any six plays from among the offerings on the Odyssey's three stages. The Odyssey theater year begins and ends in July, but price adjustments are made for midyear subscribers. Like the Odyssey, the Back Alley Theatre, (818) 780-2240, is an important Equity Waiver house with an innovative ticket plan. In the calendar year 1987, you can see any six Back Alley productions by purchasing one of three types of money-saving Passcards.

For those who would like a wider range of theaters to choose from, there's the 2-year-old L.A. Theater Pass, through L.A. Theater Works, (213) 827-0808, good for a year starting June 15. For $55, you can sample one production of your choice at each of five participating Equity Waiver theaters: A.F.T. at the Matrix, the Back Alley, L.A. Theater Works, the Odyssey and Stages Theater Center.

An even broader sampler is offered by the Dramatix Coupon Booklet, sponsored by the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance, (213) 388-1140. This booklet, which costs $36, offers two-for-the-price-of-one coupons or discount coupons for 37 major L.A. theaters, including the Taper and the Ahmanson, the Los Angeles Theatre Center, the Pasadena Playhouse and smaller playhouses from Long Beach to Valencia. The booklet is valid for one year from the date of purchase; it is important to check each coupon for individual restrictions.

The familiar Entertainment booklets, sold annually by charitable groups around the Christmas holiday for $30, may be reserved by calling (213) 278-7749. They contain discount coupons for theaters as well as restaurants and hotels. The Entertainment '87 edition boasts coupons for 19 local theaters. In most cases you get two tickets for the price of one, subject to availability, but conditions of purchase vary from theater to theater.

--Rush tickets. If you like spontaneity, you can get great seats for little cash by waiting until the day of the performance. It is traditional to queue up at the box office for these last-minute rush tickets, but some theaters even allow you to place a phone order.

Both LATC and South Coast Repertory have half-price Quik Tix. In addition, South Coast Repertory, (714) 957-4033, offers unsold tickets to students for $7 half an hour before curtain, and seniors get $8 off anytime except Friday and Saturday evenings. Similarly, the Taper has $6 rush seats for seniors on the day of performances; for students 30 minutes before a performance and half-price Hot-Tix for everyone, except on Saturday nights.

Playgoers should also watch for Ticketron announcements. Discussions are under way with the League of Producers and Theaters of Greater Los Angeles about the possibility of centralized half-price ticket booths to handle day-of-performance tickets to a number of Southern California theaters.

--Papering services. To avoid empty seats, theaters have long given away blocks of unsold tickets, a practice known as "papering the house," which frequently benefits charities. Over the years, several private businesses have contracted with local theaters to fill empty seats more efficiently by passing out freebies to their clientele.

When you join a papering service, you get a membership card and the phone number of a private hot line that keeps you posted on the week's free offerings. Choosing as many as you like, you simply make reservations through the service and pick up your tickets at the box office.

Papering services have aroused controversy among some members of the stage community who see them as depriving theaters of potential paying customers. Thus the number of Southern California theaters supplying these agencies with tickets has recently somewhat dwindled.

On the House, (213) 392-7588, a papering service established five years ago, charges $75 per year; $50 for ages 62 and over, full-time students and persons affiliated with entertainment-industry unions. Members can get a pair of tickets to each event they select that is listed on the service.

Seamus Donnell's Performing Artists Papering Service, (213) 399-3367, charges a $50 yearly fee per couple. Donnell screens applicants by phone to make sure they have a genuine interest in the arts.

--Volunteer ushering. If you have more time than money, many theaters would welcome you as an usher. After seating and ticket-taking duties, there's plenty of time to enjoy the show.

The South Coast Repertory, (714) 957-2602, has a well-established volunteer-ushering program. Its ushers are expected to attend one orientation session, sign up in advance for the dates of their choice and adhere to a dress code. Through loyal service, they earn the honor of ushering for premieres and closing nights.

At LATC, an enthusiastic group of unpaid helpers operates as Volunteers Plus. The ushering contingent, known as the Great Greeting and Seating Society, provides a pair of free tickets to anyone who has ushered three times in the previous month. Free passes can also be earned to other volunteer services: LATC's Trading Company contacts vendors for donations while its Press Core handles clerical tasks.

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