The other day, Chad Bauman wrote a much-shared blog post outlining why he hates giving out comp tickets and suggesting what struck me (and many others) as very reasonable guidelines for a comp ticket policy. His thoughts prompted me to say something I really feel is long overdue.
As a playwright, an essential component of my ongoing self-education and inspiration is seeing (and, in addition, reading) as many plays as possible. I try to read or see at least two a week—some weeks more, some weeks less—and it never feels like enough. If I were a man of greater means and free time, I’d try to boost that average to four or five, but who among us with a mortgage and a family has the time? In any event, I do my best.
I have been very fortunate in this continued self-education to have had access to complimentary tickets for several theaters in DC. There are only a few big houses for which if I wanted to see a show, I wouldn’t know how to acquire a comp, or at least a greatly-discounted seat… in which case, I should be clear, I would happily pay for a ticket, if I can afford one. In fact, very often, when I’m a bit more flush than usual, I do pay even if I can get comps, in the hope that my small purchase will reflect a far deeper well of support — one that a thousand times as much money as the price of a ticket wouldn’t even measure — for the theaters I love and patronize. In total, though, I probably end up with about 20-30 comps over the course of a year: perhaps as much as a thousand dollars worth of tickets.
Out of sensitivity to those who provide those comps, I won’t reveal any of my sources—don’t even ask—but you can probably imagine how at least some of them work. Sometimes, by virtue of a personal or professional relationship with a theater, I get emailed invitations to see a show; sometimes, if I’m curious about a show, I ask to come see it. I never—never—ask for (or accept) a free ticket and then fail to use it, and I always send a note of thanks (or, better yet, thank the right people in person) for their generosity.
In many instances, as Mr. Bauman suggests, the gesture is actually slightly self-serving: the theater is simply trying to fill a house for any one of a number of reasons, in which case I realize it’s not about me at all. I like to think that in some instances, however, the theaters in question consider the comp tickets they give me a small investment in my career, or perhaps a gesture of kindness between friends. Whatever the impulse behind the gesture, it has made an enormous difference to me over the years. I’ve seen a lot more theater than I would have been able to see without the comps I’ve received, and I know that, cumulatively, it has made me a better playwright. Given that my work has ended up on several stages in the city, my hope is that I’ve given back, at least a bit, to the DC theater community.
I wanted to take the occasion of this discussion, however, to offer an additional large, public note of thanks to the theaters that have been so kind to me. Thank you for the tickets, thank you for not making it awkward for me to ask, thank you for reaching out and offering them to me, and thank you for supporting my growth and development as an artist. I really value the work you do—that we all do—and I know from experience that it doesn’t come cheaply, so I hope you all know how terribly grateful I am.