Producers step up efforts to boost ticket sales

Broadway is gearing up for winter months that may turn out to be colder than usual.

Producers are hawking discounted tickets, which in recent years have become de rigueur for perfs during the traditional winter slowdown. Stepped-up efforts are aimed at persuading ticket buyers, potentially gun-shy due to the state of the economy, to pull out their wallets.

Most notably, Disney Theatrical Prods. is touting an offer called Kids Go Free! that will give under-18s — no small seg of the audience for the company’s three family-friendly Broadway offerings — a free ticket for every full-price adult ticket purchased to more than 200 perfs of “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Mary Poppins.”

“It’s a bigger, more proactive version of what we’ve done in the past,” said David Schrader, exec VP of Disney Theatrical Prods. “If it works, it gives us at least some kind of insurance.”

The weeks stretching from January through the start of March are always a struggle for the Rialto, with box office caught in the lull between the annual Christmas spike and the start of spring-break tourism.

Hard numbers from Thanksgiving week — usually one of the year’s top-earning frames — will start to make the rounds today. Many legiters suspect the sesh will serve as one of the first real indicators of the box office fallout of the economic climate: If receipts and attendance aren’t as boffo as usual, it’s time to worry.

Going into the week, most in the industry maintained an upbeat outlook over projected sales for the holidays, which extend roughly from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

But even Gotham Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking at a Nov. 25 press conference announcing a green initiative for the Rialto, noted the increased prominence of discount ticket offers.

“There’s not going to be an empty seat on Broadway,” he said.

For instance, starting Tuesday, Pulitzer and Tony-winning play “August: Osage County” will offer rush tickets to senior citizens for weekday perfs. Strategy, an unusual take on the youth-oriented student rush, aims to lure in the older auds who make up a large part of the Broadway playgoing demo.

Serino Coyne’s annual Season of Savings program, which offers deals on tickets to a variety of Rialto and Off Broadway shows, will return again for early 2009. No details are yet available, although it seems possible that more shows than usual could find themselves participating in the initiative.

The league’s recurring Kids Night on Broadway, similar to the Disney offer, was recently upped from once a year to monthly.

Meanwhile, the new Disney program is good for perfs skedded during the often-dead weeks between Jan. 6 and March 13. Orders will be taken starting today and ending Dec. 12 at midnight, and a free kid’s ticket will be offered only with the purchase of a full-priced ducat for the orchestra or front mezzanine.

Targeted to auds in the tristate area, Kids Go Free! aims to persuade theatergoers to buy a ticket now — before they may be dissuaded by fiscal fears or by the specter of snowy weather.

“There’s still some sales momentum, so we’re trying to take advantage of it,” Schrader said.

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