I'm not opposed to promotional ticket schemes, discount nights, whatever. I think the psychology behind "Pay What You Will" could potentially cause people to pay more than what you may pull on a discount ticket seller like Goldstar. That was the reasoning that won me over when we gave "Pay What You Will" a shot back at the ol' theatre company. I still think there may be something to it.
But part of me thinks "Pay What You Will" devalues an experience that shouldn't be devalued. What's wrong with boldly stating, "This evening of theatre is worth $15!" Jeezy creezy, it doesn't even look that bold a statement. So what's the reluctance all about?
"Pay What You Will" does let you off the hook if the show sucks, but only to yourself, not to the audience. "Well, that was a show. [insert eyeroll here.] Thank God we made it 'Pay What You Will!'"
Meanwhile the audience is reminded why they don't go see more live theatre, and grumble about it all the way home.
In my estimation, the exchange of money for theatre actually benefits the audience. It makes their decision to go see a play dearer, more important. It adds value to their experience and validates their aesthetic taste. It invests them more deeply in the play.
Money is a value-holding device, a stand-in for the work that went into earning it. When an audience member plops down $15 for a ticket, he or she is paying for it with a portion of their labor. They are investing their own productivity into an aesthetic experience. Going to the theatre is therefore not just something “fun” or “interesting” to do, it’s a reason to get through the work week – it’s something to get excited about.
We know this! How many times do we buy advance tickets to something like Wicked or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part two and spend a little time each day savoring the experience yet to come?
"But in this economy ..." goes one argument in favor. "It brings out people who might not otherwise come out," goes another. Nonsense. People pay to be entertained. Maybe the focus should be on custom-crafting an evening of entertainment that is worth something, rather than figuring out an angle to pack the house.
If what you're doing is Something Worth Seeing, people will pay.