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TBA Online: News & Features: October 2019

For Its Awards Celebration, Theatre Bay Area Tries a Radical Approach to Selling Tickets

Wednesday, October 9, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

Attending the theatre often feels like boarding a plane: a stark reminder that class is real. But with its approach to selling tickets for the sixth annual TBA Awards celebration, Theatre Bay Area is issuing a challenge to this truism.

In September, the service organization announced that the theme of this year’s celebration, which will take place on November 4 in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre, would be “We Rise By Lifting Others” and that ticket sales would be “radically inclusive.”

“In the past, the most expensive tickets are in the front and they get less expensive as you get higher and farther away” says TBA deputy director Dale Albright. “So it was our intention, in the spirit of ‘We Rise By Lifting Others,’ for the people who are the most excited about being there, lets not have price be a barrier or so much of a barrier. Lets have them be where they want to be.”

Dale Albright.

Eschewing traditional theatre practice, seats in every section of the 900-seat auditorium would have the same price options during the first sales period. When tickets to the celebration went on sale in late September, ticket buyers could choose a seat, in any section of the theatre, for the full, “Lift Others” price of $40 or a “We Rise” price of $25.

TBA announced that the pricing structure was meant to “lift those who have been unable to access these events because of economic reasons” and urged buyers who could afford the full price to see it as an opportunity to support access for members of their community.

This approach was inspired by feedback gathered over the past five years of awards celebrations and arose out of conversations among TBA staff.

“For me personally, because I worked at TBA, it was easy for me to attend the celebration,” says J Jha, TBA engagement manager. “But if I were to be asked would I pay that much money to come to the awards if I was not one of the finalists or on staff, I would have to pay the full [ticket] price and that’s a lot of money.”

Finalists (as TBA award nominees are known) receive a discount on tickets to the awards celebration. In the past, that discount has been equivalent to the price of the least expensive seats, which led to a repeated pattern.

"What has happened would be that the balcony seats , which were the least expensive tickets, the ones that usually cost as much as the finalist credit, those were the seats that always went first,” says Albright. “That by design put a majority of the finalists far from the stage.”

J Jha.

The organization deliberated over the best way to expand access for those excited to attend but unable to afford the higher priced seats. According to Jha, executive director Brad Erickson finally asked the staff to suggest a price level they felt would be affordable for many theatre artists and the group eventually settled on $25.

Faced with the question of how to offer $25 tickets and still cover the costs of the event, the organization chose to put its faith in the theatre community.

“We took the idea that if you start from a level of good, that if you automatically assume goodness in others it will reflect back to you,” says Jha. “So we started the option of asking the community to help out with this process and we gave out the price levels.”

The community exceeded expectations.

“We were blown away by the response. It was split right in the middle. We had almost equal numbers of “We Rise” and full price tickets purchased,” say Jha. “The community really, somehow, understood exactly the spirit and the concept behind this process.”

Not only was there an almost even split between the prices paid, but sales in the first few days astronomically outpaced the figures of years past.

“At this point last year we had sold 50 tickets,” says Albright, “and at this point now we have sold 500 tickets and we already have more finalist credits redeemed than we had the entire sales period of last year.”

The success of the experiment has led the organization to add a third price point for the second and third sales rounds in order to expand the number of low-cost tickets (low-cost tickets are limited in the second and third sales periods). The second round is ongoing through October 20 with a full price of $60, a second option of $45 and third option of $30. The final round runs from October 21 to November 4 with $65, $50, and $35 ticket options. Day of show venue tickets will cost $65.

For TBA, this approach to pricing represents an expanded commitment to equity.

“It’s kind of a by product of the intense work that we’ve been doing over the past year or so, reexamining equity,” says Albright. “So this is absolutely a reflection of that intensive, reflexive, proactive work and the thinking that we’ve been encouraged to do through that work.”

It’s that kind of thinking that ventures down new avenues for addressing the barriers that bedevil the theatre.

“This conversation around economic accessibility, for us that conversation has just now begun,” says Jha. “This is the first step toward that and that kind of spirit and culture should be reflected in everything we do, in every service we offer, every intersection that we stand at, we should be totally looking at the lens of economic accessibility.”

And for Jha there’s a tested strategy for charting that course.

“If you really know how to talk to the community, asking them to help out, nine out of ten times they’ll show up.”


Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at