Phantoms at the box office
Capping free student tickets would not help fill seats during symphonies or shows
Coming from someone who has been on stage many times, I know how disappointing it is to see empty seats when the curtain opens, especially when so many long hours of practice have gone into preparing for the impending performance. Those vacant chairs are like hopes which ring hollow. Actors and musicians want to play for a full house, and having worked so hard they deserve the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, the University's Arts Dollars program is hindering this prospect for some groups of performers.
Do not get me wrong - I think it is fantastic that students are able to reserve free tickets for shows, and I have taken advantage of this privilege myself. The downside of the Arts Dollars program is when many students neglect to come and claim their tickets on the nights an event happens. As an employee of the University Arts Box Office, I have seen an immense amount of student tickets go uncollected on the night of a show. At the last concert I worked, there were still about fifty tickets in the will-call box after the music started, and all of them were for students.
Students' neglect to claim their tickets is not only unfair to the performers who have the right to play for a full house but also to the patrons who are willing to pay for good seats for the shows. I often get calls at work from people who want to attend the Charlottesville & University Symphony orchestra concerts but are extremely disappointed to find only partial-view seating available, and are left sitting with pillars standing in the way. Patrons are often dissuaded from buying tickets when only partial view seats are available, but would without a doubt buy any of the fifty full-view seats which are empty on the night of the show when students do not arrive.
The problem is that there is no way of foreseeing which students will not arrive to claim their tickets until the night of the performance, and while some of these tickets will become available for sale in the final thirty minutes preceding the show, many patrons call or go online well before then to try and make their purchases.
Janet Kaltenbach, executive director of the Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra said in an email that the problem the directors face "is to find a balance between free tickets made available to students and tickets for the general public to buy." For an upcoming March 24 performance, the Orchestra directors' first solution to this dilemma was to set a cap of 75 free student tickets, but they then decided to lift the cap and instead investigated some alternative ideas for increasing student attendance. This decision was rightly made, since such a severe cap on student tickets is not the proper solution. Recall that at the last concert I worked fifty student tickets were not picked up, but two hundred student tickets were.
Plenty of students who take advantage of the opportunity to reserve a free ticket are committed to attending. The idea of capping student tickets would unfairly punish those who are punctilious by making them pay in an effort to bar those who are inconsiderate from making reservations. The problem must be addressed in a different way. Currently there are no consequences for not coming to pick up a free student ticket. If there was some sort of repercussion, then students would be encouraged to actually attend the concert or call and cancel if they cannot make it.
Take, as a comparison, a library. If there were no consequences for not returning a book, then the library shelves would gradually become emptier and emptier. The fines for late returns encourage students to bring rented books or videos back on time. The same method would encourage students to claim the tickets they reserve. If students were required to give their student ID number when reserving free tickets, as when checking out books from the library, they could potentially face charges on their accounts for tickets which they reserve without claiming. If a student reserves a ticket for a concert but then realizes that he cannot attend - or even just decides to do something else - he can easily call the box office and cancel the ticket before the show, no questions asked, and no penalties. This way, there would still be time to sell the canceled tickets to other customers who would like to see the performance.
This solution is ideal for all parties. The performers would be more likely to have a full audience, the patrons would have more opportunities to buy good seats, and the students could still get in free. It is important that University students are able to take advantage of the Arts Dollars program without abusing its privileges. Personally, I don't know why you wouldn't show up for the performance. Even if you're not satisfied at the end of the night, you don't have to ask for your money back.
Katherine Ripley is an opinion editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.