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July 08, 2016

Norristown theater testing new 'Pay What You Decide' ticket pricing

The Arts Theater
Theatre Horizon Handout Art/Theatre Horizon

Inside Theatre Horizon.

Ever feel buyer's remorse after seeing a show you didn't like? Theatre Horizon, in Norristown, is giving you the option to walk out with your money still in hand. 

No, really.

"I'd been reading and searching and just trying to keep my eyes peeled, brainstorming — as everyone in the industry has been — and I came across this theater in England that had been trying a method for a year and a half, an open-source strategy, really, called ‘Pay What You Decide,'" Molly Braverman, Theatre Horizon's managing director, told PhillyVoice. "You often see 'Pay What You Will,' [but this is] where you literally pay for the ticket after the show. And that's the radical change.”

Theatre Horizon will first test the payment approach with the one-night-only premiere of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Thursday, Aug. 4, a raucous, rock musical that follows President Andrew Jackson from his quieter days on the frontier to the Trail of Tears and beyond.

Braverman's curiosity was piqued by the findings of the ARC Stockton Arts Center, which pioneered the payment system in England. That theater tested it by splitting the trial into two six-month periods during two financial years, finding after the first full year — in 2015 — attendance had increased by 34.5 percent, income had gone up 52 percent and the average ticket yield was up by 32 percent. Significantly, slightly more than 31 percent of the audience that year consisted of new attendees. Sixty percent of audiences later surveyed reported they came to the theater more often after the payment system was introduced. 

Braverman is cautiously optimistic the trial will be fruitful. But because there are parallels between Theatre Horizon — they're both suburban theaters that offer new works and serve a diverse audience — she's especially confident it's worth a shot. That, and because the notion of empowering audiences to determine their own discounts, rather than setting flat discount rates for just students and seniors, is a powerful one. 

“I think something new and big has to happen to help theaters stay relevant and accessible," she said. "And this is one thing to try.”

"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" premieres Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m.