One day Danny Newman, who handled subscriptions for the Chicago opera company, called him: “You’re in luck! The Shapiros, long time patrons, died in a car crash and we can move you into their seats!”
Newman was the godfather of theater subscriptions, as I point out in my article on theater subscriptions for American Theatre Magazine, and spent three-quarters of a century proselytizing for them.
But now nearly every theater in America seems to feel, at best, ambivalent about theater subscriptions. This is because, like the Shapiros, theater subscribers are dying off, and they are not being replaced with an equal number of newer theatergoers. People are just not as interested in subscribing anymore.
I asked the Twittersphere: When is the last theater subscription you had and why did you stop?
David Loehr ( @dloehr) Never have had one. I’ve never found a full season I’d want to see, even ridiculously discounted.
Laura Burgos (@lauraebg) Never had one. Can’t afford one. Also: I choose by content & therefore prefer freedom to skip around
Elisa G. Schneider (@Corellianjedi2 I had a subscription to Portland Center Stage. I moved away so I stopped. Sad times.
Diane Wilshere (@petricat666) I currently have five, and one for ballet. One of those is a flex pass style; the others traditional model
Natalie Jankowski (@Natty_Lynn): I’ve thought about it and they’re usually too expensive. I prefer to travel around and see things I’m drawn to.
Howard Sherman (@HESherman) I bought my first-ever theater subscription last year, to Signature
Emily Sigal (@Stagemaven) I got a first time membership to the Vineyard Theatre 2 years ago because of the NHT gang’s lab
Vineyard (@vineyardtheatre) And we’ve been glad to have you ever since. We can’t do without our members
Daniel Bourque (@Danfrmbourque): Subscribe to the Met for years; almost ONLY way to get any kind of flexibility or lower pricing.
Charlene V. Smith ( @charlenevsmith): I had one to the Brooklyn Academy of Music because they brought in such great stuff from England. I traveled from DC for it. I stopped when I became a full time actor because I couldn’t afford trip to NY every other month
Ellen Burns (@StageElf) I’m a member of three, subscriber to three, flex for one, due to ease of getting/exchanging tickets. I prefer membership
Most of these responses are from theater-makers as well as theatergoers. It’s bracing how many don’t have subscriptions at all.
That is why many theaters are exploring new ways of engaging their audiences, alternatives or supplements to subscriptions. In the magazine article, I write about:
ArtsEmerson’s memberships. For $60, theatergoers get one free ticket to this Boston-based theater company that is part of Emerson College, and then ability to buy tickets to all the theater’s other shows before they go on sale to the general public. Executive director Rob Orchard says: “I doubt there is any artistic director or managing director who would start a theater today with subscriptions as their primary model.”
ACT of Seattle’s flex pass; For 25 dollars a month, theatergoers can see as many shows as they want.
Mixed Blood Theater’s Radical Hospitality: The Minneapolis theater gives many of their tickets away for free
There are theaters who are doing quite nicely, thank you, with theater subscriptions, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Arena Stage in Washington D.C.