The Ultimate Guide to Seeing Theatre For Free or Very Low-Cost

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Being a great artist means also being a great patron of the theatre performance. There is nothing comparable to live performance where anything can happen… But let’s be honest, seeing all that live theatre adds up $$$! How can we patronize the theater without breaking the bank? I have the ultimate resource guide to seeing free or low-cost theater for you!

Over the years I’ve been able to see free and low-cost shows because of volunteering, knowing the right people -- or honestly, just by coincidence! I’ve written out all the ways I’ve seen low-cost, or even free theatre with the top 11 list below:

1. Usher!

This is the classic, and most well-known method of seeing all kinds of free theatre. Sign up as an usher for a show and you help escort paying theatergoers to their seats, point out the restrooms during breaks and then YOU get to enjoy the show! Most every local theatre has a usher volunteer program -- reach out to an upcoming performance you’d like to see and find out about ushering opportunities.

Now if you’re ready to become an usher and free-theater-seer-pro, then I would highly recommend applying for an ushering job. You know those traveling Broadway series that come to a major city near you? They need season-round ushers to work AND they pay you to see the show! Reach out to the theater space hosting the performances and find out when their hiring season is… As most shows are evenings and weekends, you can even be a student and get hired!

2. Volunteer

Ushering falls under volunteering, but there are also many other opportunities in a theater. Can you build? Or sew? Or are you crazy organized and interested in being an assistant stage manager? I’ve even finagled my way into the assistant director volunteer positions on several shows! You will see the show develop and you also have first access to previews as a volunteer.

3. Board Member

An oft overlooked position in theater organizations, but a very critical role, board members drive the theater’s vision and mission. Joining a theatre’s board is only for the very dedicated, BUT if you feel strongly about a theatre organization and believe you have something to offer to their business it could be the most rewarding role for you!

As a board member I’ve received free tickets, low-cost tickets, access to previews, and the satisfaction of seeing my ideas put into effect to help the organization at-large. Consider becoming a board member if you have the time, knowledge to share, and interest in committing long-term to a theater community.

4. Season ticket holder

Want to get the best deal on seats and know what theatre you’ll be seeing a season in advance? Buy a season ticket! Your price per ticket will be lower because you’ve made the commitment to see a certain number of shows a season. I strongly recommend this route to the type A personality -- you like know when, where, and what you’ll be seeing, you may even get assigned a reserved seat just because you’re a season ticket holder, a wonderful perk!

Plus, most season ticket holders also get discounts on concessions, additional tickets, and special events.

5. Production team tickets

For those of us who are not only viewing theatre, but doing theatre we probably know a few other people also doing theatre. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your contacts and see if they can help you get tickets to performances! Most of the time a production crew can get complimentary tickets, or very, very low cost tickets.

I’ve often been able to ask a friend to help me get tickets and found they had two comp tickets they weren’t going to use and give them to me! Bonus: you’re supporting a friend! So make sure to send them a congrats on opening night!

6. Previews

Another great low-cost ticket option that few know about.. Preview nights! Previews occur the days before the opening of a show. Theaters will invite audiences to purchase low-cost tickets so that the cast and crew can “rehearse” with a live audience. This means that the show may not be 100% refined, but I’ve seen some darn fine performances on a preview night while the cast is still fresh AND I love seeing a few seams of a show to figure out how it’s put together.

7. Tweet Seats

Once very popular, and with still a few available, tweet seats allow the theatergoer to tweet during the show. Have a hard time putting down your phone for long periods? These may be the seats for you! They are usually low cost and all you have to do is send a few tweets about the show to your followers!

8. Critic / Media Representative / Influencer

Critics and media promoting (or even criticizing) a performance receive free tickets in exchange for their review. Most theater’s I’ve worked with have a media contact list that are always invited for free to see a show and assist in the promotions. If you’re a writer or in marketing & media you can reach out and see if your organization or publication can be added to their media contact list.

If you’re not in the writing or media industry, don’t despair! Are you an influencer to a certain group of people? Maybe you have a large social media following, a great blog, or teach theater? Find out if a trade for tickets and your honest promotion of the show would be considered. I’ve had several groups reach out to Theaterish.com in exchange for promos. While we don’t run ads on the site, I do appreciate the creative marketing!

9. Trade services (Photographer, design, etc.)

Here’s a very creative way to get free tickets -- trade services! Most theater’s need extra support around marketing, business, admin, and design. Trade cast photos for season tickets or design the program and get a front-row seat! I’ve designed a few programs for free and received complimentary tickets in exchange. Get creative with ways you can help a theater expand their reach or look more professional.

10. Ask for donated tickets for a good cause! Be the wrangler!

This one is for the do-gooders out there. Find ways to bring in groups to the theater that might not otherwise have access. I’ve chaperoned class trips to the theater, volunteered with a nursing home to escort them to a performance, and even collaborated with local after-school programs to help connect them with the theatre. The ultimate goal of course is to expose a good audience to a good show -- and your seeing the show as the coordinator of it all is just a great bonus!

11. Will Call (day of!)

While we know Broadway is famous for day-of deals to the theater, local theater companies oftentimes offer the same! Reach out for last minute prices and deals to see if you can grab a ticket. You may have a harder time with very popular shows, but it’s still always worth calling and asking about last minute deals!  

Bonus: Specials for Student, Military, and Seniors!

Take advantage of your status and find out if there are discounts for students, military and seniors!

What other ways can you’ve seen theatre for free or low-cost? Comment below and share!