It’s time to be entertained again: we’ve already looked at ways to get cheap theatre tickets and other show tickets in Part 1 (previews, cheaper seats, cheap nights, day tickets) and Part 2 (box office returns, all kinds of discounted tickets, fringe theatre) of this series – now it’s time to find out how to get theatre tickets for FREE!
That’s right, you can find free theatre tickets here and there all around the UK, if you know where to look. Free theatre tickets, or ‘comps’ have probably been around for as long as the professional theatre itself, because the sight of a full house adds to the experience and lends a buzz to any publicity.
A quick note about theatre freebie etiquette
- If you’re lucky enough to be given free show tickets, first and foremost you must not boast about it in the theatre itself. Be discreet. This is the golden rule. Why? Because the people sitting in the seats next to you might have paid £120 per ticket, and they might well get really pissed off and could also complain to the theatre. Theatres need paying customers to survive, so don’t say or do anything that could harm their business.
- Second rule: say thank you. If you’re allocated a ticket by a named person rather than a database, be polite. Turn up looking at least reasonably well groomed, be pleasant to box office staff and ushers when you get there, and so on. You could also say something nice on social media about the show, or do a quick tweet about being excited to see the show on the journey there, or even do a quick blog review afterwards if you like what you see.
- Third rule: don’t stand people up. If you’re given free tickets then you must turn up, they need you to be reliable. Sure, it’s no skin off your nose to not bother with a freebie, but remember you’re letting people down and messing them around – they invited you for a reason and they’re trying to do their job. If you can’t make it for whatever reason, let them know that you aren’t coming so they can rearrange their seating etc if necessary. Too many no-shows and you could well find yourself blacklisted.
Now, here’s how to get free theatre tickets
One of the easiest ways to get free theatre tickets is via friends and relatives who work in the theatre, or who work in theatre PR, ticket sales or the arts. Keep them sweet! If you work in these industries yourself, make sure you ask around for freebies and use up your allocations.
Another way to get free tickets is by volunteering to work at theatres or on shows. Many shows 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 a fair bit of free time.
Being a theatre reviewer is also an excellent way to get free tickets, and you may also find yourself being asked to the occasional launch party or drinks reception. You don’t need to be a major critic here: you can start your own theatre blog, offer your services to review sites, volunteer at your student paper if you’re at uni, and so on. If you write well and do fair, balanced reviews you will soon have a portfolio that allows you to approach larger publications or gets you invited to bigger shows. If you’re just starting out, go along to whatever’s being offered to show that you’re reliable and willing to take anything on.
Most free tickets for reviewers come via theatre ticket agencies. Even if you aren’t a reviewer, you could try hanging around outside a few theatres before shows start. The agency people tend to be easy to spot because they have clipboards and ID badges, and you can politely approach them after the rush has died down. If you’re lucky they might add you to a mailing list.
Tickets for classic plays and other works that are studied at school or university may also be offered to schools and colleges, especially towards the end of a run. Some nice local theatres give out a few comps to key workers as well, including nurses, firefighters, civil servants, police and armed services – again, it helps to ask around at work to see what’s available. You can also usually get comps if you are accompanying a friend with disabilities, attending as a first aider with St John Ambulance, or supervising a school group.
Free ticket agencies that anyone can join
There are also agencies that give out free tickets for theatre, comedy and musicals, often sending out an email in the morning about a show that afternoon or evening. Some offer basic freebies, and others offer a mixture of freebies and paid-for or premium services. I personally wouldn’t pay for the premium services as you don’t have that much control over what you’re offered and I’d rather direct my cash to things I definitely want.
The ones I’ve had most luck with are:
- See Film First
- Show Film First
Yes, I know they’re mostly for cinema previews, but they also have great theatre promotions from time to time. Often, a small block of premium seating near the stage is returned to a theatre box office as a last-minute cancellation for whatever reason – this highly visible hole in the crowd doesn’t look good so the theatre wants to fill it, and that’s where the agencies come in with the freebies.
Sign up for emails, add the companies to your address book, and check your emails first thing in the morning as these spare seats tend to be snapped up in minutes. Be prepared and check your diary: you may have to go out to it that evening. Again, only take these tickets if you’re certain you’ll be going along, and at least inform the company promptly if you have to cancel.
Turn up promptly to collect your free tickets, and there could be another bonus in store for you – if there have been other cancellations during the day, you might be moved into even better seats.
So there we have it, lots of ways to find free theatre tickets. Do you have any tips of your own? Please share them.