Are theatre memberships worth it?
This article originally appeared on London Theatre Direct on 14 March 2016.
In my ever growing quest for cheap tickets, I like my average ticket cost to be around £15-20 over a calendar year. I’ve taken out lots of theatre memberships across London theatres but are they worth the one-off cost or direct debit? If you genuinely want to support the arts then memberships are worth the money but if like me you are after priority booking, bar discounts and other goodies it is more debatable. I’ll compare and contrast my (current) memberships.
The National Theatre has been my longest running membership, it stems from a loyalty to them after I got too old for Entry Pass. I currently pay £15 per year for an Advance Membership but other more expensive memberships are available and frankly worth paying the extra for. The issue with Advance is that you are one day ahead of public booking but the more expensive memberships have had a good week or so to get those £15 tickets. For Travelex productions you stand more of a chance but as National Theatre ticket prices increase and the programme gets more interesting under I would recommend forking out for a Priority membership worth £80.
Across Waterloo Bridge at the Old Vic a Friends membership starts at £35 and whilst the option of £10 tickets for the first five previews exists I would argue that membership isn’t essential for cheap tickets but is essential if you are planning on going to one London theatre’s biggest events; Glenda Jackson as King Lear. A friend of mine mentioned her husband wanted to go but had a fear of non-stalls seats (Note to all cheap theatre ticket explorers-good legs for stairs and a relaxed attitude to heights are a must) and also wanted cheap tickets. I don’t think the Old Vic will provide cheap tickets based on their The Master Builder dynamic pricing but you will get access to those tickets before the public and sometimes the preview ticket approach is just too risky.
Outside of the centre of London there are lots of excellent theatres who need our support. I recently purchased membership for the Almeida and Hampstead Theatres (both £50), both are exciting venues with emerging talents and big names (Almeida will have Richard III with Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in the summer) and actually offer lots of great opportunities for the public like cheaper tickets if you are under-30 or local to the area but a membership supports these small theatres at a time when arts funding is being cut across the country. I also commend the Young Vic’s Two Boroughs scheme as a Lambeth dweller. If you live in Southwark or Lambeth they offer free tickets to Young Vic’s productions, including recent hits like A View from a Bridge’s transfer to Wydham’s Theatre in central London.
Theatre is thriving in spite of the increased costs to audience members but increasingly the theatres have responded to these cuts with strong and interested programming over the next couple of years that is worth supporting for a relatively small donation and it is trend being seen nationwide in venues like the RSC and Chichester Festival, which have seen many transfers come to the capital as well as memberships like ATG, which are perfect for those who have a local theatre and see theatre in London.