When tickets went on sale for the concluding play in Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season – Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston – those who had already booked tickets for other, arguably less commercial plays, were given 24-hours priority booking*.
Hiddleston is a big draw, Hollywood level stardom with a large fan base and demand was going to be high for tickets, so it felt like a genuine reward was being offered for those who are theatre fans first and foremost. And I don’t think I’ve seen a theatre do anything quite like this before.
The gesture and recognition for loyalty felt all the greater when a few days later the National Theatre sent out emails about the results of a ticket ballot for another play with a Hollywood star in the cast.
Cate Blanchett is taking to the Dorfman stage next year in a play directed by Katie Mitchell and, anticipating high demand, the National asked people to apply to go into the ballot for a chance to buy tickets. I didn’t make it through to the ballot but luckily my friend Poly did and we managed to get tickets.
However, one of my theatre friends on Instagram wasn’t so lucky and in a post pointed out that she’d been going to the National Theatre for more than 40 years and it would be the first Mitchell production she hadn’t seen.
Theatres in recent years have started waking up to the fact that audiences are their customers and good customer service is important but it goes beyond that, for those of us going to the theatre regularly, it can feel like a one-sided relationship.
Is it time for theatres to show some recognition for loyalty? The priority booking for Betrayal is a great idea but a lot of theatres offer priority booking as a perk for donating via their friends’ schemes.
And the Harold Pinter is a commercial theatre whereas a lot of London’s theatres are reliant on subsidies as well as every penny they take from ticket sales.
But there are other ways of showing regular customers they are valued.
Free seat upgrade
For example, how about a free seat upgrade on the night if a more expensive ticket hasn’t be sold?
What about offering benefits around returns rather than ‘no exchanges or refunds’?
Some theatres – the Barbican and National Theatre for example – will already exchange the ticket for a credit on your account if you return it up to 24 hours before but why not make this a perk for regular visitors?
What about invites to rehearsals? It’s not unprecedented, I was once invited into the rehearsal room at the National along with other bloggers and critics where we saw a selection of key scenes from a new play.
Test ‘screenings’ of plays
Films have test screenings so what about something similar – scratch performances aren’t uncommon on the fringe scene after all?
Or perhaps something relatively simple like a sneak preview of a new season announcement, rehearsal or production images – ‘as someone who regularly visits we wanted you to be the first to know/see’.
I’m sure my fellow theatre fans will have more ideas but it wouldn’t take much for theatres to build a relationship with their regular customers that wasn’t just about money but in doing so it might be a happy bonus.
* ATG card holders got the same advanced booking
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