What the everloving heck is The Yard thinking of?
The indie darling of London theatreland’s current, very successful The Crucible is into its final week, having garnered four-and five-star reviews from (almost) everyone and rave feedback on Twitter. But here’s the thing: for the last two weeks it hasn’t been possible to snag a ticket for less than £30. For context, historically tickets at this venue have been in the £15-20 range. As the rubric on the Yard website puts it, “Ticket prices increase as the theatre fills, so prices will vary between performances.” Presumably tickets started off a fair bit cheaper, then as the house gets busier on each given night the remaining tickets have gone up in value.
Having talked to a few producer friends, this is what’s referred to as ‘dynamic pricing’: the principle of adjusting ticket prices of your event reactively based on how well they are selling: it’s the hot new thing in ticket pricing. the new If your Band B tickets are selling very well, you might re-price up some of your Band C tickets. Your premium Band A seats aren’t selling fast enough? No problem, just re-price them to Band B. Airlines have been doing it for decades, producers argue; and sometimes this can work in the consumer’s favour: I have picked up box seats at Curious Incident on the day for £10 thanks to dynamic pricing lowering the price of these seats in order to get them sold.
Now, in the West End we might be prepared to accept this, notwithstanding a certain amount of critique. We’re used to some seats being more expensive than others in a big tiered venue and there are many variables involved in selling a large-scale show of this nature. Besides, nobody is expecting a West End venue to be a beacon of accessibility: let’s not ask for miracles here. But this is the Yard we’re talking about. It’s a venue dedicated to new voices that need to be heard. That’s, like, its thing. What’s more, It’s a hollowed-out warehouse. Its seating is benches. Nobody is kidding themselves that premium pricing relates in the slightest to superior seats.
What we are witnessing here is the hipsterisation of small-scale theatre. We are being encouraged to buy tickets to this play before it is cool. Worst of all, they seem to be getting away with it because the Yard is untouchable. With its Time Out ‘most important theatre in East London’ rosette, and an average audience age that the National or the Royal Court would kill for, It appears to have some sort of Teflon-coated insulation against criticism for this new policy - there’s been no pushback whatsoever even on social media.
I can’t help thinking that this strikes an odd note with all the talk of diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity that are the buzzwords at the moment, and which the Yard has been fêted for championing in the past. The Yard was founded by Jay Miller who left his job at the espresso bar at the National to found his own space. Even the bloody National used to do £10 tickets for every show (sadly very thin on the ground these days) So much of the work of the Yard (music and gig nights, etc) is about connecting theatre with other audience segments and bringing new audiences into the building. But if we are supposed to be encouraging new audiences from diverse ethnic and class backgrounds (segments mutually exclusive from the term hipster) this ticketing style seems almost bound to price these potential audiences out.
I can see the reasoning behind hipsterised pricing. It builds tribalism; by incentivising ticket purchasing it encourages audiences to take risks. And in fairness to the Yard, they do offer discounted tickets to local residents, and U25s can claim cheap tickets on the day if there are any left (though one might question the value of this if someone’s gone ahead and bought all the tickets at £30 already). The trouble is that audiences continue to see going to see theatre as taking a risk. They’ve been let down so many times. No small theatre in London is in such financial risk-taking territory, and no small theatre should have the arrogance to claim to be out of those woods. Because we can always just stay in with Netflix. We are all still in ‘hanging on by the tips of our fingers’ territory, and any decision that pretends we’re not is detrimental to the future of this industry. Even having seen some challenging and interesting work at the Yard before, I will not pay £30 to see a show in a theatre where I’ve snagged tickets for as low as £12 before. I simply don’t have the money. I’m priced out.
I know it’s hard out here. Every pound matters, and it almost feels churlish to begrudge the Yard a tactic that’s packed out a space and presumably allowed them higher revenue margins. But this is ticketing for late-stage capitalism incarnate. It legitimises all the things that the work within the Yard’s walls wishes to attack. It is deadly, and, unless the venue wants to carve itself into a niche of hipsterism and irrelevance, it must be wiped out.