This season, Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre did away with season tickets and instituted the Backstage Society in an effort to accommodate different patron types and establish a steady cash flow. Backstage Society members pay $13 to $99 monthly, charged to a credit card, which comes to $156 to $1,188 annually. Membership includes one to four season tickets to six plays, plus other benefits.
A review by the Pollard board of directors found that the company had two types of patrons: those who want a discount pass and others who wish to contribute financially, according to Van French, managing director.
“Our previous season package began as a punch-card concept. Over time, in the interest of customer service, the box office made special exceptions that gradually evolved into accepted policy,” French said. “Forgot your punch card? No problem. Want to change your reservation date? No problem. Pre-book the entire season? No problem.
“Eventually, we were offering a variety of special services, requiring extra time and recordkeeping for the box office, at a discounted price. And at the same time, we were overlooking potential donors who were looking for a way to give financial support. ” Board member S. Kelly Brown introduced the concept, known as an “ascension continuity membership model.” He said this business model provides “continual billing for a continued level of benefits,” much the same way Netflix works.
He thinks it will encourage society members to “ascend” to higher benefit levels — with an increased financial contribution. For theater companies, the model is unique in Oklahoma and unusual nationwide.
French said that Pollard is working on a “discount pass with flexible options.” The company also sells single tickets to shows.
Like most regional theater companies, Pollard earns about half its annual budget through ticket sales. The rest comes from grants, individual contributions and sponsorships.
French said that Backstage Society membership is about 10 percent less than last season’s total number of season-ticket buyers, but all members are contributing more than the ticket price. He also said while it’s not advertised, the annual amount may be paid in one lump sum, instead of monthly.
Besides tickets, society members receive an “insider” newsletter, advance ticket reservations, donor recognition in programs and invitations to “members only” events.
Pollard will continue the program next season, French said.