Not-so-Awesome: Taking chances with local theater

No matter how much you spend on tickets or support local theater, you best not arrive late to the show!

[By Monica Harris]

I love live theater but frankly, I cannot afford it often. One seat costs AT LEAST $45, sometimes as high as $155 (Iris, anyone?). To take my entire family of 5, the cost can reach the hundreds. When a good show comes to town and it’s pretty reasonably priced, I’ll try to go see it, but I have to think long and hard — “Can I really afford this?”

One theater I’ve been to a few times is The Chance Theater in Anaheim. Over the years, I have seen performances there and have recommended it to many friends. One Christmas I even bought a season pass for a friend. Their stage is small, intimate, and located in a strip mall where you wouldn’t expect to find such creative, vibrant performances. The actors are exceptional.

HOWEVER, as of last month I doubt I’ll ever go there again. I’m extremely disappointed in what seems to be a careless disregard of the loyal audience.

This is what happened: In July I purchased four tickets for West Side Story and literally had to save up the money to afford the tickets (total: $182). The show sold out immediately and the only performance available at the time was on a Wednesday night in August at 8:00pm. I figured I could make that one, although I had to work that day until 5:30 and would have to drive home first (in rush hour traffic) to pick up my daughters, and then drive to Long Beach to pick up my son, and then head back to Anaheim. You know, take the 22 to the 55 to the 5, to the 91. (I get nauseous just thinking of the drive.)

By the time we arrived at the theater we were 20 minutes late. We ran through the parking lot to the main entrance where we found 2 ushers sitting outside playing cards, smirks on their faces. “Go inside to the box office. He’ll explain the situation.”

We went inside, out of breath, and were told by the person at the counter that we were too late to be admitted. And there were no refunds or exchanges.  My heart sank. He may have well said, Get lost.

Wait a second. No problem. “We’ll wait around for a quiet moment in the show and then go in, so we don’t interrupt the show,” I suggested.

“No, we can’t do that,” he said. “But we can seat you during intermission.”

“Okay, when is intermission?”

“The show is 2 ½ hours long, and intermission is the last 45 minutes.”

Not really worth it. I said, “How about I just get a refund. Since we have to miss the show.”

“No, sorry, we don’t do that.”

I was so upset that I left the theater with tears in my eyes. Frankly, I felt like I was in high school again – the kid who was rejected by the haughty theater geeks.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the managing director and explained my situation. I asked for a refund and that I was not aware of the policy.  He did not reply, not even an apology.

I’m pretty sure if I was a corporate sponsor I would have been treated differently. Does my money mean less than, say, Capital One’s?

There is something really wrong here. Small theaters like The Chance depend on its loyal patrons for support. You feel like you’re supporting theater and the arts when you go see a show there. Not only are you in for a good performance, but you’re doing a good deed as well. They stress the importance of “community,” yet they turn away the very community that is giving them a “chance.”

I am pretty sure large venues don’t treat their customers in such a careless manner. Say, the Staples Center. Or The Pantages.

I looked up the Pantages Theater online and noticed their website states: “Patrons not in their seats when the performance starts will be seated at an appropriate time during the show at the discretion of the theatre management and production staff.” Thank you, Pantages. That’s nice of you.

I called The Pantages directly and spoke to someone on the General Info line. They confirmed that if I arrive late to the Pantages, an usher will have to seat me and wait for an appropriate moment in the show. Fair enough.

Granted, the Pantages is a large theater, and possibly it would be less of an interruption to seat someone late. So I checked out the Ahmanson’s Kirk Douglas theater, which is a small venue with 300 seats. When I click on the “Buy tickets” page, it plainly states: “Please plan your ticket purchases carefully. Sales are final. There are no exchanges…or refunds.” I appreciate that warning, Kirk Douglas Theater.

I went back to the Chance Theater site and went through the motions of buying tickets just to see if a similar warning would show up. Frankly, I didn’t recall seeing a warning at the time I purchased tickets for West Side Story, and that’s because it isn’t there. No warning or policy shows up. What does come up is this: “… We recommend arriving 20-30 minutes early for the best seats.

Only on the main page under “Contact Us” is there a drop down menu that says “FAQs” and under THAT is the rule posted: “There is no late seating. Productions will begin on time. Those who arrive late will be seated at intermission.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally click on “Contact us” when purchasing tickets.

I looked online for other small theaters with ‘no-late entry’ policies and came upon the Quantum Theater in Pittsburgh, PA.  Their website is almost exactly like The Chance’s. And their no-late-admittance policy is HIDDEN under FAQs which frankly is hard to find on their site. Go there right now and let me know if you can find it! On their FAQ page (once you find it), it states:

“There is no late seating at Quantum Theatre. We do this because of the intimate design of many of our performance spaces, in order to prevent disruptions to both the actors on stage and the audience members already seated.”

OK that’s understandable. But make it a bit more clear at the time of purchase. And if you turn me away, give me back my money!

I looked up the Largo Theater in Los Angeles. I like how they do it. They post their policy REAL HUGE in bright colors on their ticket site:  NO ONE WILL BE ADMITTED LATE TO ANY SHOW. Please have yourself and your entire party very aware of the start time for every show; when folks arrive late and are turned away it is embarrassing. ANY PERSONS NOT CHECKED IN OR ARRIVED BY 15 MINUTES BEFORE THE STATED START TIME OF ANY SHOW ARE SUBJECT TO THE FORFEITURE OF THEIR TICKETS. This means you will NOT be let in late. We all know that we live in traffic-crazy L.A. so please allow yourself time to get here on time. Heck, come early and grab good seats, them bound off for a bite in the neighborhood! 

THANK YOU Largo for making that extremely clear. Now I know BEFORE I buy tickets! And you are showing that you care about your audience!

I went back to The Chance website and noticed their mission page states: “The mission of the Chance is to contribute to a more compassionate, connected, vibrant and creative Orange County.”

Vibrant and creative, perhaps. Compassionate – not so much.