New York City theatre tickets that go unsold every day will be matched with eager theatregoers when a new discount ticket program called Play by Play begins March 8.
Conceived by partners Hugh Hayes, Thomas J. Smedes and Andrew Volkoff, the program allows producers and company managers from Broadway, Off- Broadway and off-off-Broadway to release a number of unsold tickets the day of a performance to be distributed to Play by Play subscribers.
In return, theatregoers are asked to complete a survey of the theatregoing experience, rating a play on a scale of one to ten. The advantage to the producer, said partner Hayes, is invaluable data for marketing purposes.
Subscribers, who pay an annual membership fee of $99, call a hotline to see what shows are available within hours of the curtain time, and pay a $3 per ticket service charge.
Hayes, a former Broadway press agent and former resident producer of Off-Broadway's nonprofit Rattlestick Productions, told Playbill On-Line Feb 23 that surveys are "show specific" and might ask theatregoers about everything from "that problem spot in the second act" to the posters or print ads. Hayes said the program won't just include shows that are in previews, but might include long runs, too, and allow producers the flexibility of gauging specific demographics.
For example, Hayes said, if producers of a rock 'n' roll musical wanted to know what a middle-aged demographic thought of the show, Play by Play could tap into a specific section of its membership. Generally, however, tickets are available to all members.
Tickets are not transferable, and members cannot repeatedly return to the same show (it would alter the efficiency of the survey results). It is not unusual for producers to want to "paper" certain performances -- fill seats with bodies -- for various reasons: slow Tuesday nights, previews, undersold performances early in runs, etc.
There is no cost to the producers, Hayes said. Play by Play makes its money solely from memberships. The program began accepting members Feb. 22 and will allow a limited number of people -- less than 5,000 -- by the March 15 deadline.
Hayes said the program is perfect for the person with the flexible schedule. The ideal candidate should be passionate about the theatre -- "Someone who goes to the theatre a couple time a month," Hayes said. The program is "not of much use" to tourists who have less flexibility, he added.
Play by Play already has a commitment from Broadway's now-previewing Band in Berlin, but only if and when there are extra seats, to be released at the discretion of the producer or company manager. There is no guarantee that seats for specific shows will be available, but the service will offer shows daily.
With the exception of providing producers with more detailed feedback, the Play by Play process is similar to Audience Extras, another discount program which uses unsold tickets to help fill theatres. (Audience Extras members are asked, but not obligated, to call and rate shows they've seen as either "A" (highly recommended) "B" (mixed) or "C" (not recommended)).
Play by Play survey forms are turned into producers the day after members attend shows. A Play by Play representative is on site for every performance, collecting surveys and/or distributing tickets, Hayes said.
Partner Smedes has worked as a company manager for Theater Now, as box office and house manager for the Donmar Warehouse in London, as assistant general manager for Charlotte W. Wilcox, as a Broadway house manager for a number theatres and as a co-producer of Off-Broadway's Annie Warbucks.
Partner Volkoff is artistic associate of Barrington Stage in Massachusetts.
For information about membership, call (212) 575-9808. Deadline for membership is March 15.
-- By Kenneth Jones