The new pricing model strives to make theater accessible to all members of the community regardless of financial status, Cardinal Stage Marketing Manager Cassie Hakken said. In addition to the selected price, each ticket will include a $2 convenience fee, according to a Cardinal Stage press release.
In the past, Cardinal Stage offered community access tickets, which are tickets for low-income individuals subsidized by donors. However, attendees had to individually request these tickets, a step Hakken said may have discouraged people from participating.
“We're just hoping that without having to go through that extra step of asking for those tickets, now that you can just book them on your own, there's less of a stigma,” Hakken said.
The “Play What You Will” initiative was inspired by the “pay what you decide” model growing in popularity around the U.S. and Europe, Hakken said. While the pay what you decide model asks the audience to decide on a price after watching the show, “Play What You Will” still expects people to purchase tickets prior to the production.
Hakken said Cardinal Stage decided to continue asking the audience to pay upfront because they did not want to confuse long-term patrons used to purchasing tickets in advance.
Offering tickets for as cheap as $2 is a financial risk, but one Hakken said she is confident will pay off. Hakken said she spoke to other theater companies who instituted a similar payment system and experienced higher ticket payments than projected and more donations than ever before.
“It's definitely taking a leap of faith in our community and our donor base,” Hakken said.
Cardinal Stage Managing Director Gabe Gloden said the reopening of live theater after the pandemic is the perfect opportunity to introduce the “Play What You Will” model.
“I early on thought about what happens when we reemerge from this.” Gloden said. “How can we welcome people with open arms into the theater?”
Many theater companies are trying to find ways to connect with their community, something fixed ticket pricing sometimes obstructs, Gloden said.
“This model is a way to completely eliminate any barriers for access to your organization and just a way to really, truly try to impact as many lives as possible in your communities,” Gloden said.
Gloden said theater companies must adapt to serve their communities. Since Cardinal Stage is based in a college town, Gloden said the “Play What You Will” model is a way for them to offer students the ability to experience otherwise unaffordable live theater.
“One of the things that we've heard consistently from the IU student body is that they would love to be able to attend more theater outside of university and come see more shows, but that ticket prices have felt inaccessible,” Gloden said.
“Play What You Will” is a way to shift the community’s view of theater from an elitist luxury to a public resource similar to a museum or library, Gloden said.
“I think, even after all of the things we've tried to do over the years to eliminate barriers, theater can still kind of feel like it's for the people that have the means to pay for it or that it’s for more educated, astute people,” Gloden said. “The theater that we're producing at Cardinal, we want to resonate with everyone.”