Enjoying Theatre on a Budget

It bothers me when actors tell me they don't go to the theatre. Excuse me? What? How can you not go to the theatre? How can you consider yourself an actor in this town and not know what the local companies are producing? Or who the key people involved are? Or who your competition might be? Often actors and crew go for drinks post-show, which then becomes a valuable opportunity to network, socialize and find out what the next big project coming to town might be.

"But Nancy, going to the theatre is expensive!" I hear you clamour. "Ah! But it does not have to be," is my reply.

As many of you know, I see almost every bit of theatre that comes to Ottawa. Out of 45 professional productions juried by Les Prix Rideau Awards in 2009, I've seen 40. that's not including the community theatre, Fringe, Magnetic North and student productions I've seen. I think last year I probably saw over 100 theatre performances. That averages out to 2 a week, which sounds about right.

This may come as a shock to you, but I am not the type to sit around in my tub with my bath pillow eating bonbons and drinking wine as I use my laptop to peruse the "next big theatrical event" I will be attending (though that's probably because using your laptop in a tub is just asking for trouble). Nor do I have an ample supply of disposable income which I use on $20 to $40 theatre tickets. No. I am a poor broke artist who just wanted to know everything there was to know about my local theatre community and I figured out the cheapest way to do it.

So, dear friends, this is how you too can enjoy your theatre on a budget.

Are you a student? TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT! Both the National Arts Centre, the Great Canadian Theatre Company and Third Wall Theatre in Ottawa have rush tickets for students that go for something like $10 or $11 a piece if you purchase your tickets the day of the performance. Not ideal if it's a show like The Drowsy Chaperone, which sold out rather quickly, but trust me, there are a lot of performances in town that do not sell out and you would be more than happy to see your smiling face walking to the door for your rush ticket.

Of course, the tricky thing here is that most of these companies do not clearly advertise their rush ticket availabilities, which I can understand to a point. So how can you find out about them? Well, you could just call and ask. Then again, why would you do that when you have me?

I almost never took advantage of my student status when I had a valid student card and it still bothers me to this day. Think of all the great shows I missed... As an added bonus, the GCTC also has ADULT Rush Tickets for $20. No i.d. necessary, just show up after noon on any show day to get your discounted ticket.

Are You An Artist? Well, since this blog is loosely geared towards actors and other artists, I'm going to go with yes, you probably are. A lot of companies like the NAC, GCTC, Third Wall, Evolution Theatre offer artist rates. How do you prove you're an artist? Usually with your union card. That said, if you are not in any performers union, I believe they will all accept two contrasting monologues at the box office... but don't quote me on that.

Volunteer! Every theatre company in town needs volunteers and it does come with benefits. In most cases, volunteers actually get to see the show on the night of their shift. I know this is the case for Evolution Theatre and it sometimes works out for other companies like The Gladstone and A Company of Fools (unless they happen to need all their volunteers for a secret ice cream experiment...) I wanted to see the amazing Inclement Weather/Countries Shaped Like Stars again when it was presented at the GCTC, but couldn't afford the $20. I offered my services on opening night and boom! I got to fall in love all over again.

The added bonus of volunteering means you get to know the people involved with the production. Today's front of house volunteer may be tomorrow's performer... or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Join Mailing Lists, Facebook Groups and watch Twitter Feeds How else will you know what shows are playing in town? (Other than the brilliantly up-to-date What’s On – À l’affiche listing by the Ottawa Theatre Network) Lots of theatre companies (perhaps taking a page from my book) run online contests and special promotions for their members. Vision Theatre, Evolution Theatre and Third Wall Theatre have all been known to do this. The Ottawa Fringe Festival ran a brilliant Friday Trivia contest on Twitter where you could win free tickets and other gift certificates. A Company of Fools also sends out a very informed newsletter every once in a while, so you probably want to sign up for that one too.

Pay Attention to Pay-What-You-Can! Every single company in town has a Pay-What-You-Can performance at some point in their run (and if they don't, they probably should). For instance, when I did Shining City with SevenThirty Productions, we had a PWYC matinee on the first Saturday in the run. During the summer, the Fools shows are by Pass The Hat donations. PWYC/PTH means whatever you can afford. Really, you have absolutely no excuse not to go. And how do you find out about the PWYC? See the point above this one.

Previews and Dress Rehearsals These shows are often free or cheap and take place before the official opening night. Sure you might not be getting a final polished performance, but when is a performance ever final? Besides, you're doing the theatre company a great service by being part of the test audience.

Know Somebody Finally, if not a single one of these suggestions works for you, call someone you know who might be involved with the production. (See, this is where all the networking you've been doing after attending performances is going to pay off.) Let whomever know that you can't afford to see their show but you really want to. Perhaps they will be able to offer you a comp or a discounted ticket. That said, only use this method if you really can't make it to the show otherwise. You do not want to abuse of this privilege! It's just not nice.

Or be friends with someone who happens to get a lot of invitations to shows (you know, like me). Typically these people get two free tickets to a performance and they might not have anyone to go with that night (because they happen to be single and can't meet anyone new because they spend all their time attending the theatre by themselves... ahem) I'm sure I they would be happy to have some company with which to discuss the performance post-show. Just make sure you buy me them a drink after. It's only fair.


What? This still isn't working for you? Alright. Fine. Here's my final solution: start your own theatre company, build it from the ground up over at least five years, somewhere in there start a blog, become a valued and indispensable part of your city's theatre scene, and watch the invitations pour in. It worked for me, but it's a lot of work. You might just want to pay the $10 instead.

I'll be seeing you at the theatre!