From the Public Theater website:
What's the "democratic" part of that again? Are we concerned some seating sections won't have enough rich folk in them?
A Statement on Festival Seating Policy
Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are free and distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis during designated hours on the day of the performance. To help underwrite production expenses and to make it possible for those who cannot wait in line to attend the theater, a specific (but limited) number of seats in alternate rows are made available to contributors for each performance. Tickets for contributors are reserved and are received in advance by mail. The policy of alternate row seating for contributors and non-contributors helps to preserve the democratic character of Delacorte Theater audiences.
And is something wrong with my reading skills, or are they saying that it's the contributors who can't "wait in line" and that's why they get a special deal?
By the way, to refute what one earlier comment here suggested about simply subscribing to the Public to get a hold of tix...close, but not quite. As the website clearly spells out, subscribers get $50 off a "Summer Sponsorship" which, in turn, provides you with one free ticket to one of the park productions. How much is a Summer Sponsorship?
Summer Sponsors provide support for one of New York's most beloved summer traditions and help keep Shakespeare in the Park free for new generations. Summer Sponsors may reserve seats for select performances of Shakespeare in the Park for a contribution of $150 per seat. These reserved seats are available only as long as supplies last to assure that the highest number of free seats are available for the general public on the day of show.
So, yes, that's only $100 a seat if you're a subscriber--or, more specifically, only if you buy a "6-Play Package" for $240. (There are cheaper packages for fewer shows, but no summer weenie included.)
Six plays for $240 is not a bad deal, I agree. That's why I'm big on subscribing in general. (It's how I get to see amazing stuff at BAM for less than $30 a pop, after all.) But notice the only way to guarantee yourself a seat ("as long as supplies last") is to pay $340 for 7 plays--which gets us a lot closer to $50 a play, much more than $40.
Also, there are some mixed signals in the policy about how many tix Summer Sponsors actually can get. It's clear that your $100 or $150 entitles you only to one seat to one of the offerings. But if you follow the order form, it's also clear that as long as you can shell out four figures, you can order up to 10 tix for both shows. Where I come from that's called hogging. Yes, limited availability, I know. But if the first few individual Sponsors buy, effectively, 20 "Sponsorships" each...well, that's not fair to all the "little" sponsor, is it?
Look, I appreciate all the rhetoric (inserted at every line!) about how the few "generous" ones subsidize the "free" tickets to the masses for whom waiting hours in line is no big deal. Obviously someone has to "pay" for it all. (I thought the city and few corporate sponsors used to be enough?) But I think these data illuminate a gap between patrons that is not a little discomforting. And no matter how justified it may seem on paper, Mr. Eustis, it sure don't look too "democratic."
There is no future for the theatre in free tickets. Theatre will always have to survive as a business, for profit or not. Even the fully subsidized theatres of Europe rely on income from ticket sales. The goal--the longterm goal--of subsidy and fundraising should be to keep tickets affordable for the rest, not to support occasional lavish giveaways. I worry that idealists like Eustis focus on untenable goals of free tickets (which will always come at some spiritual price and only increase class divisions, as seen above) instead of working to lure the working middle class back to the theatre with the kind of reasonable ticket prices that bracket can and will afford for something it deems worthwhile.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: What the average American playgoer needs is a good $30 theatre ticket.