Complimentary tickets are the bane of my life.
Not because there’s pennies to be pinched - although I am renown for being particularly tight with the company purse strings. More that when such a request drops into my inbox, I am immediately aware of the inevitable ‘yes, absolutely!’ reply that my fingers will soon be typing out, a life all of their own.
We are a young company, an emerging (to coin a phrase - ugh) company and a company that lives in Hull. We love our city, but for the time being it remains a place difficult to ‘attend’. Attracting outsiders is hard work, and so contemplating saying ‘no’ or even ‘why’ to someone wanting to see our work for free is often out of the question.
Never is this more prevalent than at the Edinburgh Fringe, from which we have recently returned. With programmers, producers and reviewers travelling from far and wide, it is in your best interest - nay, it is your duty - to offer as many complimentary tickets as you can. And by and large, it makes financial sense to. Whether you see a boost in sales from a nice review or a conversation is sparked about possible programming, the risk of giving away a potential paying bum-on-seat is usually outweighed by the hope of something more.
But sometimes it’s not.
Within our company, we try and keep as open a book as possible. So here’s a few things to consider.
1) We, like most, lost money at the Fringe. It cost us £13,300.59 to go, and without having had the final box office report from our venue, I am expecting a return to the company of around £3,300. We have, though, hit our conservative estimate, which means that with support from Hull City of Culture 2017 and others, we won’t come home out of pocket.
2) We were allowed to give away a set number of complimentary tickets per show - either 4, 3 or 2, depending on the week. After this, the company would be charged for the amount owed according to the box office split. As such, my best guess right now is that we will owe around £300 for the comps we over-allocated.
3) Many of these comps were allocated to venues we know weren’t particularly interested in booking the show or to people we knew could afford to buy a ticket, either personally or through the organisation they were representing.
‘So quit complaining, grow some balls and say no once in a while!’ I hear you cry. And you would be absolutely right. If you don’t ask you don’t get, so who am I to blame people for asking for free stuff.
Instead, I want to try and push the word out about who Middle Child is and what we are already trying to do to make theatre as accessible as possible, both in terms of content but also price structure. I’ll use our upcoming production of Mercury Fur as an example, where we are running our own box office and have, for the first time, complete control over the ticket deals.
1) Our most expensive ticket is £12. These will be sold on the door.
2) Our most expensive ticket bought in advance costs £10 (plus 60p booking fee). These can be bought via our website, or by ringing a temporary box office number.
3) During the two week run, we will be running two nights of a new scheme: Pay-What-You-Want-Wednesdays. Audience members will need to reserve their ticket in advance, but other than that what you pay is up to you.
4) Another offer we are trialling is Five for a Fiver. Again, pretty self explanatory; Any advanced booking of five or more will see each ticket price drop from £10 to £5.
I’m happy with that. I hope we’re covering a few different bases: those who want to come and see our show at a time that suits them, they can, and for a reasonable price; there are incentives to get larger groups of people down, and there’s reason for those who haven’t come before to give it a try. We’re doing what we can to make it affordable and accessible - only time will tell if we succeed.
So here’s my plea. If you are a reviewer, a venue, a programmer, we really really want you to come and see the show. We’re having a press night on Tuesday 13th October. We might put a donation pot around somewhere, so if you’d like to support the production in some way that’s great. We won’t hold you to it. If you can come that night, let me know and I’ll send you a link whereby you can reserve a place.
If you can’t come that night we still want you to come - there’s loads of others! And I don’t think the prices are too bad at all. Our capacity is 40. We really need to sell out the show for the public run in order to pay our staff. I’d love it if you could see the value in contributing to that.
And if you still believe you should be offered a complimentary ticket, that’s ok, but here’s the deal. I’m going to do my best to hold back on the yes absolutely’s, and we’re going to have an honest conversation about the why’s. If there’s value there’s cause, so let’s have a chat.
Middle Child Producer