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Blog » Fringe Ticketing 2007: The Baby and the Bathwater

Posted on 8/23/2007 by Sam Varteniuk

The new Fringe ticketing system was designed, as I understand it, to address the problem of volunteers having to carry around large quantities of cash.  This is fair enough – a volunteer should not be expected to carry hundreds of dollars late at night.  I’m sure there were other concerns about the old ticketing system too – it required a lot of volunteers posted at a lot of stations, which meant a lot of cashboxes that needed to be prepared and maintained.  I had the sense that many aspects of the Fringe were fuelled by the very souls of the employees and volunteers, if their weary and ragged looks at festival’s end was any indication.  I certainly don’t need people to be burning out to facilitate my Fringe experience, and I’m not afraid of change.


But here’s the problems with the new system:


1. Last Minute Tickets 


There is no mechanism for the sale of last minute tickets.  Someone who walks by a theatre and, on impulse, decides to buy a ticket five minutes before curtain now has to walk to a ticketing booth which can be up to two blocks away.  If there’s a line up, which there often is, or the system is down, which it often is, then they can’t make it to the show on time.


2. Line Ups 


I think part of the appeal of buying tickets online is that you don’t have to waste time waiting in line once you get to the theatre.  And this is true if you go to the main Fringe office to pick up your tickets, however if you go to one of the booths you still have to wait in line along with everyone else.  Then you have to go line up at your Fringe venue. 


3. Technical Difficulties 


Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like at least one out of every two ticket stations is not functioning due to technical difficulties.  Having a new-fangled online ticketing system is all very well and good, but it’s dependent on a stable system.  It doesn’t even seem as though they have a Plan B for when the computers crash.


4. Price Increase 


At the end of the day price increases are always a tough sell, and in this case there’s been two of them.  Maximum permissible ticket prices were increased from $10 to $12 (which almost every show has done), however on top of this the Fringe has instituted a $2 surcharge on all advance ticket sales.  Since all ticket sales are now technically sold in advance, this not only adds a total of $4 to the standard Fringe ticket price, but arrives in a muddily-communicated doublespeak that does not reflect well on the organization.  Some people are upset at the mere principle of what they see as a Fringe tax; traditionally all money from ticket sales has gone to the artists.


The problems with the ticketing system are even more acute for the BYOVs (Bring Your Own Venue).  They are typically the furthest away from satellite ticket booths.  There is no longer a Fringe ticket booth in front of BYOVs, which make them more difficult to identify as venues.  Further, BYOVs operating out of bars are having to turn away regular patrons who would have usually simply paid the $10, watched the show, then enjoyed a night at their favourite bar.  When faced with the prospect of walking two blocks away, waiting in line, and paying $14, many people simply choose to drink at another bar.  This becomes a serious issue for BYOVs who wish to retain their regular clientele through the run of the Fringe.


While the new ticketing system may have addressed some problems, it has created more.  I think that the satellite ticket booths are a good idea and should be maintained, along with the option of online purchases.  I do not, however, think that we can afford to do away with ticket sales at the door.  The world is not so ubiquitously online that we can abandon the human element.  Perhaps security guards could be hired to accompany volunteers with cashboxes.  Perhaps the Fringe should consider the printing and sale of “Fringe Bucks”, a standardized voucher that could be used at any show.  There are a great many things that are good about the new system and it does us no good to demonise it entirely, however I hope we can come up with something for next year that is not only good for the administration, but is equally good for the artists and, most importantly, the audience.


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