DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, March 1, 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Want to see The Book of Mormon in DC? Good luck with that.
Back in the 1960's when I first started going to concerts and theater events, you didn't have to plan your night  months in advance. You could pretty much decide you wanted to see someone like Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Who, or even the Rolling Stones at 6 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, jump in a car and drive to the venue (for me, it was usually either the Spectrum in Philly or Steel Pier in Atlantic City), pay your money (in those days a ticket went for single-digit dollars), grab your seat or floor space, and enjoy the show. In fact the only time I was ever turned away in advance for a concert was a 2-show appearance at the Spectrum by Elvis in 1969.

But, to borrow from Bob Dylan (whom I also saw a few times as a walk-in), how times have changed.  And I'm not even talking about event prices. In this age of ticket scalpers and internet ticket resale sites like StubHub, not only must you commit to a popular event months in advance, you might not even then be able to get a ticket unless you want to pay astoundingly inflated prices. Nothing better illustrates the current situation than this week's saga of the advance sale of DC tickets for the Broadway award-winning hit The Book of Mormon, which is coming to the Kennedy Center this summer.

The tickets for the wildly anticipated religious musical satire by the creators of South Park went on pre-sale to Kennedy Center members only. (For the sake of full disclosure, my wife and I are Kennedy Center subscribers, but we didn't seek Book of Mormon tickets). What resulted was an amazing tale of supply, demand, greed, and modern technology. (If you want to read a 1st person account of a how-the-heck-do-I-get-a-ticket-to-this-event, you can in the Tales, Tidbits, and Tips section at the end of this post, which describes in hour-by-hour detail the travails of one local DC ticket buyer).

At 10 a.m on Wednesday, in what Kennedy Center officials are calling "unprecedented demand," more than 6,000  potential ticket buyers attempted to log on to the Kennedy Center's website, causing the system to crash, a malfunction so severe that the site had not been fully restored by late Thursday.

The ticket rush was not unexpected since center officials had been informing members by email that they expected demand to be significant. Apparently, however, the amount of that significance did catch officials by surprise.

The Kennedy Center spent the day Wednesday sending out Tweets and Facebook posts, explaining the situation and apologizing for the inconveniences. Of course, the apologies, though numerous and sincere, did not help buyers procure the tickets they wanted.

Finally, late Thursday afternoon, the Kennedy Center sent out a final email, again apologizing for the glitches,explaining what happened, and announcing that, despite the problems, the members-only tickets (which had also been offered at the venue itself) were sold out, meaning that no non-member of the public would have access to the show unless they purchased tickets from an agency or on-line dealer. A check Friday morning proved that hundreds (and probably many thousands) of Book of Mormon tickets were available at ticket dealers online for any performance date.The tickets that I viewed ranged in cost from $157 to $800.  Of course, those prices pale when compared to the $10,000 tickets I saw advertised for the recent 2 New Jersey shows by the Rolling Stones.

Now I understand that you can't turn back the clock. The 60's days of easy access to popular events are as gone as the 15-cent hamburgers we used to eat after those shows. I completely understand if a show sells out. That's good for the venue and great for the performers. But something strikes me as fundamentally wrong if you have to give money to a 2nd-party ticket agent or scalper to see that show. If I am going to pay $800 to see a religious satire, then both the outgoing and the incoming Popes, as well as the person they claim to represent on this Earth, better have starring roles.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
While I only watched the Kennedy Center ticket story unfold from afar, others had a more involved position. Here is a highly entertaining account from DC Theater Scene writer Stephen McKnight about his attempt to get The Book of Mormon tickets. Click here to access the article.

Blog Archive

Popular Posts