For upperclassmen, the pre-weekend trip to the University Box Office in Usdan to pick up tickets for one of Second Stage’s student-produced shows has been a longstanding tradition. But Second Stage’s recent ticketing switch, which uses Eventbrite’s virtual platform rather than the University’s physical box office, has altered the ritual.
Second Stage isn’t the only on-campus organization to switch up its ticketing. The Box Office itself began utilizing online ticketing for certain shows last summer, and this semester stopped being open on Saturdays. Traditionally, ticketed Second Stage shows have required same-day ticket purchases, and some Box Office workers speculated that this might have factored into Second Stage’s switch.
“The main reason was honestly financial,” said Second Stage’s Managing Liaison Emma Johnson ’19. “It felt a bit ridiculous for people to have to go to the Box Office to get a ticket they would just have to throw away.”
There’s also the matter of accessibility. As Johnson explained, while the Box Office has over-the-phone ticket reservations, there was concern that the Box Office’s on-campus location and workday hours would limit access for non-student members of the Middletown community.
“Access was especially important to my show,” said the director of “A Chorus Line,” said Jessica Perelman ’17. “I wanted to make sure it was opened up beyond the Second Stage community, both in my casting process and my presentation process.”
Director of “Wizard People, Dear Reader,” Liam Tran ’17, saw firsthand how the Eventbrite switch had indeed increased accessibility. Several members of the broader Middletown community attended his production.
“I thought that was pretty nice that members of the community who probably would not have heard about the show through Facebook or Usdan posters, saw it on Eventbrite and wanted to come,” said Tran.
Paradoxically, Eventbrite seems both to create more equitable access and make acquiring tickets more competitive. Perelman saw tickets for the musical sell out in three minutes. This has been a consistent trend for many of the shows that have been put on since the switch.
And while shows still sold out quickly during the Box Office semesters, the intangible nature of online tickets and the ease by which they are acquired has also led to increased truancy. While tickets are quickly snatched up, they are not always redeemed, leading to increased percentages of the audience composed of people who got in off the waitlist—somewhat undercutting the purpose of being able to get your tickets online, days before the show.
“I’m sure [the waitlist] makes it more exciting, the fact that you almost didn’t get in,” Perelman said. “But I’d rather not have people have to be on the waitlist.”
Perelman mentioned that the lack of a physical ticket and that reserving a seat could be a function of nothing more than a slightly faster internet connection makes the Eventbrite ticketing process feel less fair. This artificiality, encapsulated by the virtual ticket, is also perhaps why online ticket holders feel less bound by their reservations.
Just as Eventbrite has been rearranging how much of the audience is composed of ticket holders and waitlist people, it also redistributes audience members among different nights.
“I think more people start showing up on Thursdays,” said Tran. “Just because then you can see into the future, you can tell if Friday and Saturday are all sold out.”
This is the sort of information that same-day ticket sales can’t provide, and could potentially increase the total number of people able to see shows. Productions that sell out all three nights can then open up their dress rehearsals to would-be viewers unable to get a ticket, without resulting in a smaller audience on weekend nights.
In previous semesters, only productions that have gone up in the ’92 have been able to distribute tickets through the box office. Shows going up in less traditional spaces–such as Music House, the WestCo Café, and the Alpha Delt Grotto–had no ticketing system. Unless a production had chosen to distribute tickets through Usdan tabling, would-be audience members would need to arrive at performances about an hour early to claim a seat. This aspect of Eventbrite seems particularly transformative for events that go up in these sorts of spaces.
“I think it made it easier for people that were in the show to get friends into the audience,” Tran said. “For people like me who never had family come and see these shows, it was nice to have your friends get guaranteed spots, rather than going on the stage and seeing then whether or not they got a ticket.”
Even for those who escape waitlist purgatory, their experience with Eventbrite has been generally positive.
“I found it really helpful—especially as an upperclassman who never goes to Usdan—to be able to buy a ticket for my housemate’s show right on the Facebook page,” said Carli Poisson ’18.
Those who don’t manage to secure tickets may find comfort in the fact that at least there’s a shared interest in student-produced theater on campus.
“I just think it’s incredible that shows can sell out in under five minutes,” Perelman concluded. “That’s such a testament to the Wesleyan community, and how supportive they are of the arts, of each other, and of people being in shows. It’s really cool that we’re at a school where that happens.”
It’s not a perfect system yet, though it does seem to be a net positive for non-traditional spaces. The issues encountered are consequences of a robust theater scene, albeit perhaps one that could use more seating.
“We felt like this was a bold move to switch all of a sudden, and there’s no way to do that without having a few issues to straight out,” said Johnson. “But we’re doing our absolute best to make it as accessible and easy for people as possible. And we are always open to constructive suggestions, questions—we’re very open to chatting.”