comedy theaterThere’s nothing quite like live theater.  It is an intimate and almost magical experience shared with fellow playgoers.  And there’s nothing better than attending live theater for almost nothing.   For savvy theatergoers, some new services have arrived on the Internet that help you get seats for next to nothing.  The only catch:  it’s last minute — you can’t get reserved seats.   But if you don’t mind a last-minute theater experience, read on.

Free theater is nothing new — wealthy corporations or benefactors have made free theater available for decades, such as Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.   (There are similar Shakespeare-in-the-Park festivals elsewhere in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and many other cities, large and small.)   However, these shows are hard to come by and often there are strings attached.    However, the Internet has made low-cost or free theater more accessible to theater goers.   Often, theatrical productions want to fill seats in order to create the appearance of a “full house”, as well as make the theatrical experience a fuller one for its guests and cast.    A day or two before a performance, productions will make free tickets available because their advance sales are…..well, not as robust as they’d hoped.   This is when opportunity opens its stage door to sharp consumers.

One national service that offers such last-minute free tickets is Fillaseat.  Since 2009, it has made unsold tickets available to consumers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Southern California and some major Texas cities, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.  It works on a subscription basis;  for anywhere between $40-80 per year, you receive notice of local shows that are offering free tickets.

Other local discount outlets are beginning to offer similar “paper the house” arrangements.   San Diego Performing Arts League offers free tickets through its “Paper the House” offering and in Los Angeles, Plays 411 offers the same.   Plus,  some theatrical productions are using discounts through social networking, such as specials offered on Twitter and Facebook, to fill unfilled seats.

Another strategy for low-cost or free tickets focuses upon local colleges.   College and university drama departments, (especially ones with graduate programs in directing) regularly present low-budget or no-budget productions directed by students, and sometimes by faculty directors as well. Usually these “workshops” or “lab productions”  are not widely advertised, but you can usually find out about them by looking on your local drama or theatre department bulletin board. Some of these shows, though amateur, are outstanding. While the actors are not yet professionals – some might very well be in the coming years, and you can say you “saw them when.

Other freebee possibilities are often listed on Goldstar.com and Theatremania.com. These are generally for professional productions at small theatres around the country which, seeking to build audiences for little-known (but sometimes very exciting) plays, are willing to give away tickets for the first two or three weeks of the play’s run – hoping to get word-of-mouth advertising that will bring in paying crowds in the coming weeks or months.

While many New York playgoers are familiar with discount tickets through TDF  (also known for its TKTS Booth at Broadway and 47th Street in the center of the New York Broadway theater district), there are other cities that have similar discount ticket services. They generally offer discounts from 20% to 50% (most often the latter) for a small service charge.  The tickets are released daily by theatres that estimate that the seats would otherwise be unsold.  Other nonprofit discount services include:

  • AtlanTix at the ‘Underground Atlanta’ Visitor Center in that city, check it out at com
  • HotTix at 72 East Randolf and at the Water Works Visitor Center in Chicago; check at com
  • ArtsTix at Horton Plaza in San Diego; check at http://www.sdartstix.com
  • TixBayArea on Union Square in San Francisco, check at org
  • TICKETplace at 407 7th Street, NW in Washington, D.C.; check at http://cultural-alliance.org/index.html