Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out.
“It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re trying to get to audiences that will help us broaden the base of people attending.”
Signature Theatre will celebrate selling its millionth subsidized ticket on May 22 with champagne and a proclamation from donor Mayor Bill de Blasio. The “Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access” began in 2005, offering $35 tickets to all theatergoers during initial five-week runs of their plays. There’s no application to fill out, no coupon to show at the door, no rush lines, and you can see a season of shows for the price of one Broadway ticket.
“The initiative was started because it was obvious that one of the barriers to attendance of theater and culture events in general was price. We felt very strongly that it should not be a barrier,” Wolpert said. “If people wanted to come to Signature and see our shows, if we made the price affordable, it would be one step towards making it easier for people to come. Economics or other factors shouldn’t be keeping people away from the great culture that the city has to offer.”
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Because the tickets are so affordable, Wolpert said the performers often play to a packed house at 85% to 90% capacity.
“We see teachers, retired postal workers, union members, veterans,” he added. “I’ll be stopped in the lobby sometimes and people will say ‘this is how I can afford to go to the theater.’”
Time Warner initially supported the subsidized cost, but after the theater’s move in 2012 to the Pershing Square Signature Center, the Pershing Square Foundation is now the lead sponsor, offering a 20-year gift to cover the ticket prices. Ten other partners support the cause and the theater accepts donations from willing patrons. As Signature sells its millionth subsidized ticket, Wolpert looks back at the history of the program with pride.
“To think about how many people were exposed, affected, and impacted, I’d like to think that the impression has been made on them and their lives that they can access some of the finest theater in New York,” he said. “That’s very heartening because many of us are in the business because we want as many people as possible and at Signature in particular as many opportunities as possible to see what we produce.”
Signature opens its first musical this year, Dave Malloy’s “Octet,” and the May 22 celebration of the millionth subsidized ticket is open to the public and will include a raffle for a lifetime subscription to the theater.
(Pictured: The cast of “Octet”)