What prompted me to finally write the article was the otherwise wonderful Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, just north of Chicago. I'd called and been charged $5 (which is low, compared to some places...), but for a ticket that was simply being held at the box-office, A conversation with the manager was less than satisfying, including being told that they supposedly needed the fee to pay for the phone line -- which otherwise would have apparently made it the only business in the United States without a telephone phone.
As it happened, I got an email on Friday from the Chad Peterson, who is Director of Communication of the Writers Theatre. He said he read my article and was interested in talking with me. I really wasn't all that interested in continuing the discussion and debating fees, but if he wanted to talk, I felt it was only fair to do so. And I have great admiration for the Writers Theatre, in general. So, I called.
It turned out that we had a very nice conversation, and he said he was actually appreciative about the article, saying that I made a lot of points he agreed with and that were discussed by the staff every year, and the article gave him a chance to bring the topic up again and address it, hoping to find a solution.
I won’t give an full “play-by-play” of the conversation, but random snippets.
He felt my article was very thoughtful and fair-minded, and appreciated how I made sure to praise the Writers Theatre. (And appreciated that I wrote a subsequent article that largely praised the show itself, even while pointing out some quibbles.)
He said that when I spoke with the box office and manager, there was a problem because the people I talked with really didn’t know the reasons behind the fees, and gave wrong answers, and then when the answers “clearly weren’t very satisfying,” they just started making things up. And that’s where they got into trouble.
The fees are not for handling tickets, but trying to help recoup all costs, divided up among the various aspects of running the theater. He agreed that they shouldn’t be called “Handling fees,” because that’s not what they do, and it creates a false perception that becomes annoying. Perhaps another name would be better that’s more accurate, he thought. (I still didn't think there should be a fee for buying a ticket, but if they were going to do that, suggested “Theater venue fee.”)
The fees are a problem, he acknowledged, and one that bothers him as a consumer when he himself buys tickets. They’re more important to the Writers Theatre, as a non-profit organization, which needs funds to break even, and would otherwise run at a huge deficit, though happily they have very good donors who help a lot, but it’s still a problem about how to address the fees.
He also agreed that a better way might be to incorporate the cost into the price of tickets. That’s part of the debate they always have, and opinion is divided, but it's a concept he likes. Where you would tell people upfront that the cost of the ticket includes all fees, charges, and taxes.
I mentioned that while people do react to the ticket price first and foremost when deciding if they want to pay for a seat, those who have made the decision to buy a $65 ticket would likely be fine at it being $68, knowing that you can go to the theater in Chicago and pay $80-100 for a ticket. And that it isn’t a case of people expecting to buy a $30 ticket and suddenly find it’s $68. He agreed.
And in the end, he reiterated that this is a debate they have all the time, and my article allows them to address the issue again, and it gave him good points to use from the perspective of consumers – points he thought were valid. And he appreciated it. And for all our talk, there was nothing I wrote that he tried to talk me out of. That might have been politeness, but he kept agreeing with what was written, just mainly giving some background information as to why things were as they were, and how he wanted to handle it better.
I stand by the article. But the call was all the more reason why I like the Writers Theatre so much.