Seeking to entice new audiences and build interest in Philadelphia theater, the Azuka Theatre will hit the boards next season with an unusual ticket strategy.
Visitors will pay what they wish - after seeing performances.
Azuka is not alone in seeking a new way to bring people in.
Theatre Horizon in Norristown will begin testing a similar strategy with its one-night-only concert performance Aug. 4 and its reading series later in the month.
The two theaters believe this may be the first time such an effort - optional payment after performance - has been employed in the United States, although it has been used in Britain.
At the same time, Pottstown's Theater With a View, an Equity company, is entering its third season of pay-what-you-wish. But the Pottstown productions - Lisa D'Amour's Detroit, running Aug. 17-Sept. 3 - will require patrons to fork over anything or nothing in advance. It's the third season Theater With a View has used optional payment in advance.
All three theaters are using the pricing strategy to expand audiences in some way.
"With the pay-what-you-decide model, we can eliminate the financial barriers of attending theater," said Mark H. Andrews, Azuka cofounder and marketing director. "Patrons will decide the value of their experience at our shows. The price is up to them - and they won't pay a dime until after the show."
Azuka producing artistic director Kevin Glaccum said, "This model eliminates the need for reduced-price, discounted, or tiered ticketing, providing an equal opportunity for patrons from any financial background."
Pay-what-you-wish will be in effect throughout the 2016-17 season, he said, supported by a $55,000 grant from the Barra Foundation.
Glaccum said the idea was sparked by an article in the British newspaper the Guardian about a successful similar effort at theaters in Britain - Slung Low, a company in Leeds, and ARC, in Stockton-on-Tees.
"It was terrific," said Glaccum, who visited the theaters. "Income was through the roof."
After testing the idea during previews of The Moth, which ran in May, Azuka decided to take the plunge for all of next season. "The effect really goes well beyond price," Glaccum said. "It gives the audience a buy-in they really don't have now. It builds tremendous loyalty." He said the test in May worked very well, producing a solid revenue stream.
"Our audiences are remarkably young," he said. "Young people don't buy subscriptions. They don't want to buy something in September that they'll use in May."
The 2016-17 season begins with Idris Goodwin's How We Got On, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, Sept. 21 to Oct. 9.
Theatre Horizon will begin testing the post-performance optional-payment model with Alex Timbers' musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - one night only, Aug. 4. General manager Molly Braverman said the decision to try the method came after reading about the experimental effort in Britain.
"We say, no cost up front - come in and see our show," Braverman said. "You pay what you feel the show is worth. So there is no financial risk."
Like Azuka, Theatre Horizon is seeking to broaden and diversify its audience. And like Azuka, Theater Horizon has found that traditional ticket strategies, like selling season subscriptions, have increasingly limited impact, particularly with younger and less-affluent audiences.
"We are working at getting new and diverse audiences into our space," she said. The new ticket strategy "is different and innovative."
The plan is to extend the program if the experiment is successful, she said. "We're absolutely looking at this as a possible model moving forward."
At Theater With a View, payment, if any, is made when tickets are booked.
"It attracts a lot of locals who may not have ventured to see one of these site-specific plays," said Bryan Buttler, the theater's publicist. "It works really well. It puts a lot of the stake in the audience's hands. . . . The audience gets involved."