Are ticket sales expectations sapping the fun and inclusivity out of student theatre?

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Anonymous
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Any of us who have been part of a university society, especially if we’ve been on management or a committee, will know how hard it is to keep a student-run and therefore student-financed group going. Many societies at the University struggle from year-to-year to keep their heads above water financially – which is why I have a lot of sympathy for the Cecilian Society for trying to do the same. I’ve been a part of theatre groups my whole life and so I know how expensive putting on a show can be; from the bigger things like renting the venue or costumes, to the smaller things, like buying enough hairspray for 200 people who need to be able to dance for two hours without their do falling apart. It’s a really tough undertaking.

As I said before, I’ve been a part of theatre groups my whole life. Which is why I was so shocked at the attitude the Cecilians took to selling tickets. I was a part of the Cecilian Society a few years ago, and for several reasons, the society was not for me. I love (and I mean love) musical theatre and performing, but the attitudes of some of the members and the cliques that formed instantly were a little more high school than High School Musical, so I didn’t return (believe me, they didn’t miss me).

I’m still a part of the Cecilian Facebook group, and last week I saw a post about ticket sales. I say post, but it felt more like an attack on the members, reminding them that they ABSOLUTELY HAD to sell 20 tickets each to help the society break even. The post went on to name the few people who had managed to sell 20 tickets and, by omission, shame others who hadn’t. It then reminded people that there was no excuse to not pay for tickets up front, and that after they had paid for the tickets they could “tell their friends that you have paid for their ticket already out of your own pocket so they feel guilty and pay you!” The post made it very clear that if you didn’t hit your 20 ticket quota, you were letting everyone on the team down.

The post went on to ask people to comment tips for getting tickets sold. One member commented: “‘The show is nearly sold out on some of the nights’ Works. Every. Time”. Using techniques like this to guilt people into coming to see your show is not only unfair, but blatantly dishonest! This comment came under a post where a committee member had clearly said they hadn’t broken even. These techniques might work in the long run, but I know if I was pestered to put money down for tickets for a sold-out show, and then arrived to a half-empty theatre, I would be extremely pissed off.

The Cecilian Society lauds itself on being an inclusive and accepting group – but is it really that inclusive if you have to be able to sell 20 tickets to be a part of it without getting shamed? I know that by February of my first year of uni I didn’t have 20 friends who I felt comfortable enough with to ask them to spend money that they don’t have (because, as Cecilians seem to forget, we are all students), which puts people in an extremely awkward position of either having to bother their classmates and flatmates to go see something they don’t want to see, and then guilt them into coughing up the money, or facing the wrath of the all-powerful management team for not being enough of a “team player”. It’s also hardly fair on foreign students or those on a year abroad, who might find it a lot harder (and less financially accessible) to get family members to travel to see the show as a member from a couple of hours away might.

Being a part of a society is supposed to be fun, and being part of a show, if done right, should be like being part of a family. I understand that tickets must be sold, but if you’re having to put this much pressure on your members, maybe they’re not the problem? Fewer performances, a smaller theatre, or a show that non-musically obsessed students might actually want to come and see are all ways that the Cecilians could look to improve their bank account, rather than putting unfair expectations on students with different circumstances.