Flood or Flu, Fans Stuck High 'n' Dry : Venues: OCPAC's policy is no refunds or exchanges if the show goes on--regardless of star's illness or natural disasters.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last week's rainstorm left Phyllis Waters and a friend up a creek. They left work in Los Angeles County on Wednesday to see "The Sound of Music" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa and got caught in traffic on the treacherously flooded streets.

When Waters called the center's box office, hoping to exchange her $47 tickets for another performance, she was told, she said, that no exchanges or refunds would be made, in accordance with center policy.

"They said they had had a lot of calls from a lot of people," said Waters, who lives in Huntington Beach, "and if they made an exception for me, they would have to do it for everybody else, and they simply were not going to do that."

Thomas Meiss of Orange encountered a different sort of roadblock: He had purchased 10 tickets to see "The Sound of Music" on Jan. 1. But when his party got there, they were told the star, Marie Osmond, was suffering from flu and had bowed out. Her understudy went on, and again, the center offered no exchanges, no refunds.

Of the area's three main venues--the center, the Irvine Barclay Theatre and the Cerritos Center for Performing Arts--OCPAC is the only one that will not exchange or refund tickets under any circumstances for a patron who misses a performance. And Cerritos is the only one that will help out someone like Meiss.

If "extraordinary circumstances" such as "legitimately hazardous" weather conditions prevent attendance, IBT may exchange or refund tickets, said its president, Douglas C. Rankin. "We just try to be accommodating where it makes good sense to be accommodating," he said.

Similarly, Cerritos will offer exchanges to future shows if hazardous weather or other extreme hardships prevent attendance, said spokeswoman Lori Yonan. If an exchange is not feasible due to a limited run or sold-out performances, "a refund or credit will be offered."

Why won't OCPAC do that? Spokesman Gregory Patterson answered simply that as long as the center is able to present a performance, its no-exchange, no-refund policy stands.

Last week's "inclement weather did not affect our ability to present the performance," Patterson said, "so no refunds or exchanges were given."

He added, however, that "as a courtesy" the center offered Waters (and others who could not attend) a receipt for their tickets so that the amount could be deducted from taxes as a donation to the nonprofit center.

But that didn't make Waters happy. "I didn't save my money and buy those tickets so (the center) could call it a donation," she said.

And what about Meiss' situation--in which a venue uses a star to promote a show, and patrons feel they essentially are paying to see that star, but the star doesn't show up?

OCPAC's Patterson said all the center's ads "clearly state that programming and casting are subject to change" and that understudies or substitute performers may go on in place of star performers. He also noted that OCPAC's no-exchange, no-refund policy is printed on every ticket.

Meiss said if that's the case, he "certainly won't be returning to purchase tickets" at OCPAC. "The center's policy is basically 'sorry, Charlie, read the fine print,' " he said. "Our group did not get what we paid for. (The center needs) a new policy and some PR lessons."

But IBT has a similar policy, which Rankin calls the "standard industry policy." Rankin noted that over Christmas he paid $130 for four tickets to hear opera star Bryn Terfel at New York City's Metropolitan Opera, and when Terfel was replaced by an understudy, no exchanges or refunds were offered.

Cerritos, however, will exchange tickets if the headliner doesn't go on, providing tickets to another performance are available.

"Customer service," Yonan explained.

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