Arts Desk

Cut-Rate Tickets Are Big Deal for Shakespeare Theatre Company

Shakespeare Theatre Company has some tickets to unload for its upcoming production of Much Ado About Nothing. LivingSocial members woke up this morning to an email offering deep discounts on tickets to the Ethan McSweeney-directed show, which transplants Edward de Vere's Shakespeare's—sorry, I couldn't resist—comedy from Sicily to 1930s Cuba.

Cut-rate deals like this can lure nontraditional audience members. People who buy tickets to Much Ado About Nothing through the bargain website are probably "more loyal to LivingSocial than to us," STC's marketing director Darby Lunceford says. "Their lists are massive, but they are starting to target more," he adds.

STC has sold tickets through deal-of-the-day websites before, though the 1,700 it's trying to sell between now and Saturday appear to be the greatest amount to date. The mezzanine tickets, priced 51 percent lower than normally advertised rates, are going from between $29 and $47.

Many sales by sites like LivingSocial and Groupon deal in vouchers that can be redeemed before a given expiration date. In the case of theater tickets, STC is hoping the Much Ado deal will fill out its preview run later this month. The show's preview period, running Nov. 25 to Dec. 4, is a bit longer than usual with Thanksgiving in the middle.

For theaters, LivingSocial "fills specific seats when they really need more audience members," says Jody Gavin, a spokeswoman for the discount site. LivingSocial, which is based in Washington, has also sold tickets for the Arena Stage's recent remount of Oklahoma and the Capital Fringe Festival, in addition to contracting with theaters in other U.S. markets. In the third quarter of 2011, Gavin said, the company sold about 25,000 vouchers for theater tickets.

Neither STC nor LivingSocial would reveal how much they make off this kind of sale, though Lunceford said it is a profitable enterprise. Technically, LivingSocial has already purchased the tickets from STC and is acting as a middleman between the theater and potential audience members who STC hopes will become repeat viewers.

"We don't know who's buying," Lunceford says. As of this writing, nearly 1,300 strangers have gone for the deal.

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