There’s nothing quite like the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd – and it’s even better if you can get to see a theatre show for free or at a discount.
Sign up for ‘comps’
‘Comp’ tickets are theatre freebies. Sometimes you can get them from friends who work in the industry, if you know anyone. Otherwise, Show Film First tend to have the most frequent truly free theatre, musicals and dance offers, even though they’re best known for free movies. Sign up for their alerts and check your emails first thing in the morning as these spare seats might be snapped up in minutes. Check your diary for performance times and locations: you may have to go out to it that afternoon or evening.
When you’re given free show tickets, always remember not to boast about it in the venue itself. Be discreet. This is the golden rule. The people sitting in the seats next to you might have paid up to £120 per ticket depending upon location and venue, so they could get really annoyed and complain to the theatre if they overhear you saying that you didn’t pay. Venues need paying customers to survive, so don’t say or do anything that could harm their business.
Follow your favourite artists, venues and promoters on social media and get on their mailing lists too. There are regular opportunities to get free tickets in giveaways and prize draws, plus the occasional secret freebie for fans.
Lend a hand or join in
You can often get free entry if you’re accompanying a friend with limited mobility, attending as a first aider with St John Ambulance, or supervising a school group.
Another way to get free tickets is by volunteering to work at theatres or on individual shows. Many events are run on a break-even basis, and it’s done for the love of it. You are of course exchanging your time for the tickets, so this is best for someone who has the free time to devote to it. You could be doing anything from painting scenery to performing on stage…
Join the club
A few agencies give out ‘free’ tickets for theatre and musicals to the general public, often sending out an email in the morning about a show that afternoon or evening, They do charge a couple of pounds to join or as a handling fee per show, so technically it’s not completely free, but it is very cheap compared to general ticket prices. The main players are My Box Office and The Audience Club, both based in London.
Find cheaper days and seats
A little more cash to spare, there are even more ways to see great shows on a budget. Before a big long-running show gets going in earnest, they usually hold previews. They aren’t always heavily advertised, but sign up for news and gossip from one or two good stage websites or blogs, and you’ll soon know which big hot ticket shows are coming to town over the next few weeks and months.
Consider the cheap seats. As you might expect, they may have a restricted view, be some distance away from the stage, or be a less comfortable seat. Sometimes they’re ‘standing room only’ and there’s no seat at all. However, it is definitely worth doing some research before buying the cheaper seats, as some of them do represent excellent value for money.
Most theatres around the UK have at least one performance each week where all the evening’s tickets are cheaper than the rest of the other days, and it follows the principle of supply and demand. As theatres tend to be less busy on, say, Monday evenings or Wednesday matinees, the tickets are usually cheaper then too.
Buy at discount from the theatre
Many popular shows give you the opportunity to buy massively reduced price ‘day tickets’. These are usually made available first thing in the morning at the theatre’s box office, for use the same evening. Be prepared to get there early and queue, and take some picture ID with you if possible as many theatres have put strict anti-tout measures in place. Only a limited number of tickets will be released each day, and on some days there may be none at all – but if it’s a great show then it’s worth the risk.
Also, just before any performance starts, a few people are likely to return their tickets if they can’t attend for whatever reason. It isn’t usually as cheap as getting day seats, but you might still score a discount and it’s much safer than buying from a tout.
If you have a favourite theatre near you and you’re likely to attend on a regular basis, it might be worth signing up for theatre membership. There are different packages available, but most will give you priority booking, discounts and maybe freebies too. Weigh up the membership fee carefully against the potential savings.
Most theatres also have discounts for students/NUS cardholders, and may offer discounts for pensioners and those on benefits too. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get – discounts might not be advertised anywhere prominently, but they often exist.
Try commercial discounters
Away from the theatres themselves, there are other general discounts that are available to all – but be careful to stick with well-known companies as there are some dodgy ‘agencies’ out there. Large general entertainment websites like Lastminute.com and TimeOut are safe to use and offer a wide range of discounted show tickets. You can sometimes find a bargain on daily deals sites too, such as Living Social, Amazon Local, Groupon and Wowcher. Remember to shop around for the best deal, and factor in any additional booking, handling or postage fees.
Do you have any cheap or free theatre tips of your own? Are you going to try any of the ideas above?
Part Two of this article will be published in a few weeks.