A playwright friend told me a story about how her first play was a week from opening when she realized they hadn’t accounted for how tickets were going to be sold. That’s TOO LATE! Once you’re in rehearsals (and regardless of how they’re going) you should already be selling tickets to your show, or at least figuring out how to.
There are lots of ways to sell tickets; too many, really. So, if your budget allows, this is where you might be best served by hiring a box office manager or combo box office manager/ticketing person/”front of house” manager. This person should know how theatre tickets get sold in your region and have the experience to help you choose the best, easiest way to do it. And when I say best and easiest I mean best and easiest for your potential customers, i.e., your paying audience; not you. Because believe me, they’re different.
Have you ever showed up to something, expected to buy a ticket and been told they only take cash? Or you’re online and whatever site you’re on doesn’t take a certain credit card? If you don’t want to lose a prospective customer, you want to make it easy for him or her to buy a ticket to your play. If you don’t care about selling tickets or have such a small house, short run and built in audience that it’s not worth setting up multiple ways for people to buy tickets, then forget all this. But that’s not most shows and certainly not most plays that are self-produced.
I recommend setting up some combination of making tickets available online, by phone and at the door. Figuring out what will work best for your show isn’t hard, it’s just one of those time consuming jobs that needs to be done.
Starting with online ticketing sites, there are several to consider. We used Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/createevent.html.
BPT lets you choose your ticket price and how many tickets will be available through them. The site allows ticket purchasers to enter discount codes (that you disseminate via any number of ways) and keeps track of it all. At any time before online sales close before a given performance, you can see how many tickets have been sold and who bought them using which codes. And BPT paid us for tickets sold within a few days of performance.
Then there’s Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com which is similar in functionality to BPT but seems to be used for more “one off” types of events.
Each of these sites takes a percentage of ticket sales and will deposit net proceeds into a bank account or via other means such as a PayPal account that you choose at the set-up stage.
In LA, we also have a full-service ticketing and promotional site called Plays-411: https://www.plays411.net/newsite/ticketagency/ticketagency.asp
Plays411 offers ticketing as well as other services, including email blasts about your show that go out to their very large list and “hosting’ your show’s informational page. This last feature is great if you choose not to get a dedicated URL for your show as we did with villathrilla.com. There you can provide reviews, cast member info, pictures and the like. Publicists like Plays 411 because they can go into the site and directly book Press tickets. But do your due diligence. Not only does Plays 411 take an up front fee plus a percentage of sales, several producers told me Plays-411 can take longer to pay you for tickets sold. The amount of lag time can be critical if you are hoping to use ticket sales to pay actors and other expenses in the later weeks of your show.
You’ll also want to register with Goldstar https://www.goldstar.com which has become the go-to place to search for discount tickets (even though the practice is controversial due to the forcing down of ticket prices). If your graphics and logline grab people here, you can even pull in people to your show that might never have learned about it otherwise.
Something else a producer should consider in LA, apropos ticketing is the Ovation Awards, managed by the LA Stage Alliance http://lastagealliance.com To be considered for an Ovation award, you need to be a member theatre (or affiliated with a member, as we were) and your show needs to run for at least 6 weeks. You also need to make tickets to your show available to Ovation voters for free. Ovation voters will then use the LAStage Alliance website to reserve their tickets. (Additional discounted tickets can be made available here too, though we didn’t pull in anyone other than voters from this site.)
All of these outlets will get your show in front of prospective ticket buyers and give them an opportunity to buy. But I’m sure you can see the downside to having multiple outlets: Checking in with each of them to determine how many tickets have been sold for a given performance. This can be a headache and even a nightmare if you have a hit show, though granted a good nightmare to have. You have to decide how many tickets you will give each outlet to sell at what price, sometimes changing that number if one site is running low. Invariably mistakes get made and you and your various outlets have created a situation where more tickets have been sold than you have seats. The whole thing requires monitoring and that takes time.
Then there are phone and “at the door” sales, and believe me, there is a large, generally older segment of the population that still prefers one of these two ways of buying tickets. They just feel better talking to a real person. We didn’t want to pay for a new phone number or use our own. So we got a free phone number through Google, which allowed us to both set up an informational outgoing message and gave callers an opportunity to leave a message. We’d then pick up the messages and call people back to take a credit card number for their ticket purchase.
As for sales at the door, we accepted cash, check and credit cards through our Square account. There are a lot of different mobile credit card applications now so again, choose the one best for you and your customers. The percentages the different companies take off each sale varies but I don’t think you don’t need to sign up for more than one service.
We had a master list for each performance compiled that afternoon from all the different outlets we were using so we knew who to expect. As people arrived, we gave them programs for entry. This is what most theatres in LA do these days. With most people buying tickets online and having the ability to print a receipt, there’s really no need to print up tickets. But if you want to, there are plenty of services that will take your money.
In closing, whatever means you choose to offer tickets to the public, may you sell out your houses and make your money back!
Next up: Opening Night