Tips for Seeing Theatre in Chicago Without Breaking the Bank
Let’s be honest: theatre tickets can get very expensive.That said, the theatre shouldn’t just be for people with abundant disposable income, and many theatres recognize that and provide discounts that make theatre more affordable. I also have a few tips for how to see theatre even without discounted tickets.
- Explore season tickets and memberships. To be sure, season tickets are not inexpensive. However, if you can make the investment, and you are already planning to see more than one of a theatre’s productions, season tickets are often more cost-effective than buying individual tickets. In some cases (such as with Mercury Theater, Lyric Opera, and Broadway In Chicago), season ticket-holders will save a full 50% or more on their tickets, as well as receiving benefits like free ticket exchanges. For the Broadway In Chicago spring 2015 season, tickets can be as low as $20 per show using season tickets. For $36 a month at Theater Wit, or $15 a month at Victory Gardens, members can see unlimited theatre at their respective three and two theatres.
- Don’t be afraid of the balcony. For the national touring productions through the Broadway In Chicago theatres, I’ve often noticed as much as a $60 or $70 difference in ticket price between the orchestra and the balcony (with Wicked, closer to a $150 price difference). For the Lyric Opera, there can be a $200 difference between the highest balcony and the prime main floor seats (that’s $200 per ticket). Yes, the view is obviously better in the better seats. Personally, though, I would rather purchase a cheaper ticket and see a show from a higher viewpoint if it will save me money that I can use on tickets to other shows. With the balcony, my new best friend is a handy pair of binoculars. You can get an inexpensive but serviceable pair on Amazon for $13 (I have two pairs of this particular set).
- Try making a show a weeknight indulgence. You can often save $15-20 per ticket by choosing a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday over a Saturday night show through Broadway In Chicago. That said, for other theatres (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Goodman Theatre), it’s often only around a $5 difference – and for some theatres, there’s no difference between weekend and weeknight prices – so it’s worthwhile to check before assuming that the weeknight show will always be the better choice.
- Check out Goldstar. Goldstar has discounted, and occasionally even comp, tickets for many shows. At times (for example, with certain Broadway In Chicago tours), it is simply a discount on the more expensive tickets, which means that purchasing a higher balcony seat directly through the theatre may still be less expensive. For many smaller theatres, however, Goldstar makes theatre-going far more accessible. As a recent example, full-price tickets to Lifeline Theatre’s inventive production of Jane Eyre are $40, but a select number of $15 tickets are available on Goldstar ($21 after a service fee).
- Look for age-based discounts. Many theatres offer discounted tickets to seniors and students. Certain theatres also offer discounted tickets to veterans. A few theatres even offer specials for young people who are out of school but perhaps not quite at a place where they can afford full-price tickets; typically, the cut-off age in Chicago is 30 or 35..
Theatres with Special Age-Based Discounts
This is by no means an exhaustive list of Chicago theatres with special rates for younger adults, but they are all theatre programs that I have personally used.
- Chicago Shakespeare Theatre offers their CST for $20 program, which allows people under the age of 35 to purchase up to two $20 tickets ($23 after a small online surcharge) for most of their productions.
- The Steppenwolf RED card gives six tickets to people in their twenties for $100, refillable until their 30th birthday. By their calculations the under-$17 a ticket is a discount of 78%, and the card can be used for any of their shows. It also includes in-theatre drink discounts and access to special events.
- TimeLine Theatre’s MyLine provides a limited number of $15 tickets, as well as access to special events, to people who are 35-years-old and under.
- Although the Edgewater Theatre District Flex Pass is an excellent deal (one show at each of nine theatres for a grand total of $75, plus discounts at partner restaurants in the neighborhood), the Flex-30 Pass is all but unbeatable for the 30-and-under crowd living anywhere near Edgewater (or not, if they’re willing to travel), as the price of the Flex Pass drops to just $30 for the nine shows.
- Strawdog Theatre Company’s <30 Series allows people in their twenties six tickets to their productions for $85, plus 20% in-theatre drink discounts.