To cultivate teenagers as active and engaged arts patrons.
Gather a consortium of arts organizations to offer $5 day-of-show tickets.
A centralized organization facilitates ticket sales; companion tickets; special events for teens and special-interest programs.
Partnering organizations don’t decide which events are for teen tickets╤it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.
Gathering more information about what teens want, while transitioning out of the Seattle Center into an independent organization.
The ever-elusive teenage ticket-buying sector seems to simultaneously beguile and vex most arts administrators. The refrain most often heard is a sighed question that goes something like this: “If young people go to music concerts and comedy improv shows, why can’t we get them to theatre?” Meanwhile, arts leaders who do manage to attract young audiences often boast about it—and why shouldn’t they?
So, how to share the love? How can we make theatre more accessible to adolescents? TeenTix in Seattle has been challenging assumptions about teenage art enthusiasts for the past 10 years in a program that allows any 13-to-19-year-old to sign up online for a free pass that entitles them to $5 day-of-performance tickets at partnering venues around the city.
Like a lot of best practices, the idea was a borrowed one. In 2004, John Merner, former executive director at the Seattle Center, a 74-acre arts complex that houses upwards of 10 flagship arts organizations, was impressed by a program he’d seen in Colorado Springs that offered $5 tickets to teenagers. “We started at the Seattle Center under the public programming wing,” notes Holly Arsenault, who joined the TeenTix team in 2005 and is now the organization’s executive director.
The idea is simple. Gather together a group of arts organizations—from ballet and symphony to theatre and film—and have each partner commit to selling a certain allocation of $5 tickets to TeenTix patrons. Seats that might otherwise go empty are filled. Everyone wins.
TeenTix itself does not sell anything or provide subsidies to enlisted partnering organizations. “We didn’t have the funding to build in that way—we felt that facilitating ticket sales and being a matchmaker supported our mission more. The idea is to have teens go to the partnering organizations directly and develop relationships with them,” Arsenault explains.
Organizations situated on the Seattle Center campus were early TeenTix adopters. “Having critical mass and strong relationships with organizations was key—especially when approaching new partners,” says Arsenault. Today TeenTix boasts 53 partners. Among them are ACT Theatre, Intiman Theatre Festival, On the Boards, Taproot Theatre, Jet City Improv and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
In the early days, TeenTix members purchased 15-minute-rush tickets, but that soon changed. “It wasn’t feasible for young people to wait around with little insurance of getting in,” says Arsenault. “Plus, there’s a sense of second-class citizenship with a rush ticket. It wasn’t accomplishing our goal of making teens feel welcome.”
Today TeenTix members purchase a $5 day-of-show ticket. The TeenTix website is frequently updated if a show is sold out. However, Arsenault points out that true sellouts are rare. “We try to make pass-holders feel confident enough so that they can swim around and not have to constantly check the website. There’s usually at least a few no-shows for an event, and often, if it’s a subscriber, the available seats are good.”
Pass-holders can also bring a companion—of any age—and purchase a $5 ticket for them, too. Two-for-$10 Sundays happen at all partner organizations, while museums offer these deals on Thursdays. TeenTix also hosts special events, like backstage tours geared for adolescents, at partner organizations to entice new users, bring visibility to the program and build teen confidence about using their TeenTix passes.
Carlo Scandiuzzi, executive director of ACT Theatre, observes, “We forget. We don’t realize how difficult it can be for a teen to come to an establishment and how scary it can be to go up to the box office.” Arsenault concurs, “A lot of teens are like, ‘A $5 ticket deal? This seems too good to be true.’” The special events go a long way in debunking confusions about how TeenTix works.