This Fort Worth theater now lets you pay what you can afford for tickets. How’s it work?
Amphibian Stage theater company in Fort Worth is known for its innovative and sometimes radical approach on the stage with productions. Now it is taking a similar tack with ticket prices.
In an effort to make theater accessible for any budget, Amphibian will offer all events in 2023 on a tiered ticketing system, starting as low as $10. Patrons will literally get to choose their price to come see a show without having to sacrifice seat quality.
Each production at 120 S. Main St. will have three or four price points, with main stage productions and stand-up comedy starting at $15, and other special events starting at $10 and ranging upward to $60.
“Yes, it’s a gamble, but one we’re willing to make in order to remove more barriers to entry. We envision full audiences of all kinds of people, and what could be better?” said Evan Michael Woods, Amphibian’s marketing director.
Simply, if someone wants a ticket but only has enough money for the lowest price, then that is all they pay — but their seat will be just as good as someone paying the higher price. And it is completely on an honor system, Woods stressed.
“It is not our intent to police people’s ticket buying decisions,” he said.
This new model does eliminate discounted Thursday performances and all promotional ticket prices. Main stage pay-what-you-want preview performances (dress rehearsals) and opening weekend pricing on the main stage will remain in effect.
“We have two performances on opening weekend of each of our main stage shows that are catered events for our season subscribers and high donors. Because of the additional cost to put on these events these performances are not eligible for the tiered ticket model,” Woods said, adding, “but that is eight dates in the very full calendar.”
Patrons are returning
How is Amphibian able to afford this? Well, it does come on the heels of two of the highest attended productions in organization history to end the 2022 season, “Marie Antoinette” and “The Hollow.”
Woods noted that studies show while theater attendance has not fully recovered to what it was pre-COVID, patrons are nonetheless returning. This was evidenced by these two shows.
“The generosity of individual donors, grants, foundations and our members have allowed us to make bold programming decisions and still pay our artists fairly,” Woods said. “Paying artists fairly is very important to the organization and we would never make an institutional change that would sacrifice that.”
Amphibian artistic director Kathleen Culebro said this decision is in line with the nonprofit theater’s history of putting patrons before profit. She recalled that some of her favorite productions at the theater have been offered for free, including the short film “This is My Story” and the newly released augmented reality art walk, “Neighborhood Leap,” in South Main Village.
“This new pricing model is our way of breaking down barriers to live theater and taking steps to welcome all. Money should not prevent anyone from enjoying the healing effects of the arts,” she said.
Woods said the move is not only to increase attendance, but also to expand the audience. Some folks might have an interest in coming but are hesitant to spend, for example, $40 for a ticket on an experience they’ve never tried before.
“Our attendance records show that we had higher rates of first-time and younger patrons on performances with a pay-what-you-want ticket model. So now we’re saying, ‘What happens if every performance is a pay-what-you- want performance?’”
Woods said the program has resulted in more pre-sales than ever before. The new season begins Feb. 10 with “Spaceman,” about a woman sent to Mars.
“Our artists are excited and sharing this news across their social media channels. The time is right to rethink how we expand our audience base,” Woods said.
Where the idea came from
Amphibian took inspiration for the idea from other organizations like Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, Know Theatre of Cincinnati and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Also, Culebro has been following the data and studies published by the Wallace Foundation national philanthropy in New York.
The new tiered ticketing includes “Spark Fest,” Amphibian’s new works festival in June, which will focus on celebrating the talents of MENASA (Middle Eastern/North African/South Asian) artists. It is the first time the theater is centering a specific group of people for this festival, and the first time to be holding a nationwide acting competition.
“For years I’ve dreamed of hosting an acting competition that would not only reward actors for their years of training and experience, but that would also allow audiences to see the brightest Texas talent,” Culebro said. “There is a perceived absence of MENASA talent in the area, and this further limits the opportunities available to them.
“By showcasing them, we hope to introduce artistic leaders to more actors and thus encourage all of us to include their stories in our seasons.”
So why would a person pay more for a good seat when they can get the same seat for up to one-sixth of the price?
Jay Duffer, Amphibian’s co-artistic director, noted that if a person can pay more, it simply helps cover the program’s intent to help those who can’t pay as much.
In other words, if you can afford to pay $60, doing so will help someone who can only afford $10 be able to enjoy the same show. However, no one is checking into anyone’s financials
“We know our patrons will choose the level that is right for them,” Duffer said. “We’re just excited to bring more people in the door by lowering the barrier.”
Amphibian Stage tiered ticket prices for 2023:
Main stage general admission: $15, $25, $40, $60;
Stand-up comic residency general admission: $15, $22, $30;
National theater live general admission: $10, $15, $20, $25;
SparkFest general admission: $10, $15, $20, $25.
For the 2023 schedule, visit amphibianstage.com.