Yes, it's dog-eat-dog when it comes to putting keisters in theater seats. As a result, professional theaters all over metropolitan Philadelphia - the new season boasts 51, the most ever - have been coming up with ticket plans created to fill houses during their plays' runs.
The long-used forms of ticket discounts - knockdowns for student and seniors - continue to endure at all but a few of the 51 professional stages. And the cyberworld offers discounts here on local coupon websites for shows at a smattering of companies.
These may be effective for audiences looking for Philly deals, but additional, sometimes more inventive, offers are also being created - but carefully. Regional theaters are nonprofit animals, and make half their budgeted costs from patrons and corporations, the other half from the box-office take.
These programs also may make regular season subscribers - not the backbone they once were for some companies, but still the benchmark for success for others - resentful.
"We never want to undercut our subscribers," says Tyler Melchior, marketing chief for 1812 Productions, which produces at Plays & Players on Delancey Street. "It is the philosophy of the company that if someone commits to a full season with us, we do all that we can to guarantee that they get the best package."
That same idea is the mantra at other companies, including Walnut Street Theatre, which offers generous discounts of 55 percent to 78 percent to its main-stage season subscribers and other discounts for shows in its 80-seat Independence Studio theater on the third floor of its historic building at Ninth and Walnut Streets. With 56,000 subscribers last season, the Walnut continues to have the most of any English-speaking theater company in the world.
To avoid subscriber backlash against discounted single tickets, several companies' unusual offers involve subscribers. Many local companies offer a "flex pass," which allows subscribers to buy a full season's worth of tickets, but put them all toward only the shows that interest them, in order to invite friends to come along. Many plans also allow theatergoers last-minute changes of performance nights.
And some companies offer subscription perks. This season, 1812 Productions is inviting subscribers to bring a friend free to one production.
As part of a telemarketing campaign, anyone who buys a season subscription to either of two unrelated and seemingly competitive companies across Broad Street from each other - Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, and the Wilma Theater - gets a free ticket to a preview performance by the other company.
Targeted discounting - offering low-price tickets to distinct communities - has figured large with some companies, especially those like InterAct Theatre Company in Center City, producing work that deals often with such social issues as race, religion, and politics. "We reach out to communities all the time," says InterAct's marketing chief, David Golston.
Among the latest discount trends are offers that mix in socializing and food. A box-office program called The Scene is the Arden Theatre Company's $30 night once each production, billed as a young professionals' evening. A ticket comes with a preshow reception that includes food and drink and an after-show invite to a bar with the cast and crew. Bristol Riverside Theatre has created "Thirsty Thursday," a program targeting a younger demographic, and offering a preshow happy hour with food.
Possibly the classiest food-and-theater mix comes from a professional company outside metropolitan Philly, but attracting plenty of city folks, particularly in warm months: Cape May Stage. A "Dinner and a Show" combo ticket offers a choice of nine Cape May dining rooms, followed by a walk to the theater for a show. Each restaurant has its own discount meal package, and the theater offers discount tickets in the deal.
"This is a huge hit with our patrons," says Alicia Grasso, Cape May Stage's marketing director. The restaurant-theater partnerships "make up about 25 percent of total box-office revenue. And that number continues to climb."
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Follow our theater coverage at www.philly.com/phillystage or