By Isaac Butler
Before my wife and I both semi-retired from theatre, we rarely had to buy tickets to Broadway shows. Either through her business or my artistic connections, we generally got in free during previews. If it wasn't free, we probably couldn't afford it, and thus we didn't go.
And thus I was not fully aware of exactly how much it sucks to be a Broadway customer. This is something that producers might want to think on a bit. There's a number of problems. The most obvious one being that 98% of the ushers on Broadway seem to be staffed via convalescent homes, sanitariums and methadone clinics. The second main problem is that you are treated like a criminal as soon as you show up. Broadway theaters are not alone on this one. Watching the Second Stage ushers try to keep people from photographing the set of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was such a remarkable moment of tone-deafness on the part of the administration of that theater, such a perfect illustration of how theaters want the money of new audiences but not the actual people, that I was left speechless. (If you have an awesome set, you should be flattered, not pissed, that people are snapping photos of it before the show. Shut the fuck up and be grateful someone's excited about something on a stage for once)
But nothing compares, I have recently learned, to the abomination that is Telecharge. Seriously, if Telecharge weren't owned by and thus have exclusiving ticketing rights to shows put on spaces owned by The Schuberts, there is no way this thing would survive as a business. It's a disaster. It is quite possible the least user-friendly ticketing service I've ever used, eclipsing (how is this possible?) discount regional airlines and Ticketmaster concert ticketing.
The main problem is that you cannot choose your seat. Even movie theaters now let you choose seats in advance! But no, what telecharge does is force you to use its search algorithm to choose seats. After selection that you want the "best available" in the house, it then spits out whatever random seats it happens to find. But these seats are never the actual best available.
I just bought tickets to Motherfucker today. The process went like this:
(1) Click best available.
(2) Be like "there's no way the leftmost and second leftmost seat in the Nth row of the Orchestra are the best seats, let me try again.
(3) Click best available again.
(4) Immediately get better seats (Row N, middle of the right hand orch section)
(5) Wonder if a more narrow search might get me even better results.
(6) Decide to change my search criteria only to find out that doing so involves started the entire search over again from scratch (including picking what city and show you're looking for tickets for)
(7) Wind up back at "choose best available" and just keep hitting the button until eventually I get actually good seats. So what seats did I get? Center orchestra, middle of the row, Row Q.
So that's right. Telecharge's best seats algorithm thinks seats all the way over to the left in Row N are better than seats in the center of the orchestra four rows back. That's insanity. No one in their right mind would ever pick the first pair of tickets over the second unless they were trying to see if Anna D. Shapiro is good at directing for sight lines. So not only can the consumer not do what every other ticketing service allows you to do (pick your own seats) but the system they have in place to do so is totally fucked up, and if you want to try to make it less fucked up, you have to keep restarting the search over and over again.
Not only that, but did you know that producers of plays in Schubert venues don't get access to the contact information of people who buy tickets to their shows? That's right, according to some commercial theater folks in the know I've spoken to about this, despite having nothing to do with the shows in their spaces except owning the spaces and the ticketing services, the Schuberts take and hoard your information for their own purposes, making more money off of it as they then force the actual shows in their spaces to purchase the information from them.
What a clusterfuck! Of course theatre producers tolerate this bullshit. What else are they gonna do?