Dear GRSF: Why are your tickets so expensive?

Dear GRSF: Why are your tickets so expensive?

“Dear GRSF” is a new series for our newsletters where staff and company members at Great River Shakespeare Festival answer your questions about the “whys” and “hows” of our company. To submit a question, click here.

Recently, a GRSF patron asked our leadership team, Why are your tickets so expensive?”

Answer by: Eileen Moeller, Marketing & Sales Director

The box office staff at GRSF are often asked this question by first-time ticket purchasers. An initial look at our ticket prices will show that they range from $10 for students up to $49 for adults in the Center seating section. Because “it’s art” and it is sometimes viewed as a “fun” job, a theater production to many feels like it should be set at a low price point.

While those things are true (theater is art and it can be fun), theater involves a LOT of moving parts and a lot of work. There was a time not too long ago when artists – especially actors – were not appropriately paid for their labor and thus theaters were able to offer “cheaper” tickets. Like many industries, theater now has several unions which technicians, directors, choreographers, designers, and actors join as a way to ensure they are paid a fair wage and can have access to things like retirement funds and health insurance – you know, those things you normally want when you get a job. Because there is often an attitude that something “fun” or “artistic” doesn’t feel like work and therefore people should do it for free/cheap, we often underestimate or undervalue the amount of REALLY HARD WORK that goes into making something look “fun”. 

Actors spend weeks and weeks studying their character in order to make a story clear to the audience. They may research the time period in which the play is set, or spend time with a dialect coach to get their speech patterns right. They may dig into some of their own personal traumas and experiences in order to better access a character. Technicians work extremely long hours and are at risk of being injured on the job. They have training in a variety of highly skilled trades such as electrics, carpentry, or even welding. 

Then of course we have to purchase all the materials on which the technicians are working, or the actors are standing or the props they are using or the costumes they are wearing. The cost of the hours it takes to make a costume or create a fake dead body are all factored into the ticket price. The cost of new lightbulbs (which are very different and much more expensive than the ones in your house!) for the lighting instruments is factored into the ticket price. It could be that a speaker blows out and we have to get a new one, or we don’t have an extension cord that is quite long enough.

And these are just the things you see on stage! This doesn’t account for having several year-round staff who prepare for giving artists a place to live over the summer, market the Festival, print brochures, and answer the phones and sell tickets. We also have an office on which we pay rent monthly – where the few year-round staff work on a day-to-day basis (before COVID, of course), and where we store many of our supplies and costumes.

If you were to factor together all of the costs for labor, materials, rent, transportation, phone lines, internet, and a million other tiny things, and we didn’t have any donors, each ticket we sold throughout the season would have to cost at least $100 each in order to keep the Festival running year to year. That would mean no Winona Wednesdays (where all tickets are $12), no student or group discounts, and no discounts for Season Passes. It would mean the Festival isn’t accessible at ALL to so many of the people we like to welcome every summer.

Fortunately, we have a very generous and supportive donor base, and also regularly seek out grants to support our operating costs. Because of grants from the government, various foundations, sponsorships from local businesses, and individual donations, we are able to offer a wide range of ticket prices to make the Festival more accessible to a wide variety of people at a price point that is comfortable for them and their families.This is why donors make a huge difference to us and the other people who come to the Festival every year. It means we can do the very basic thing we want to do, which is make art, do it well, and share it with as many people as possible.