Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: The Complications of Comp Tickets

Marissa Skudlarek gets complicated.

No wonder I’m tired all the time: I saw 51 plays and an additional 24 staged readings in 2012. I hope you do not interpret this as a boast, because I kind of see it the opposite way. Like “I have an addiction to theater; please help.” The first step toward recovery is publicly admitting that you have a problem, right?

But I’ve always thought that if you want to make art yourself, it is your duty to see as much of it as possible, and sleep-deprivation and constantly shelling out for tickets are par for the course. All the same, as indicated by my list of non-resolutions from my last column, I do feel ambivalent about my theatergoing habit. I often wonder if I would appreciate theater more if I saw less of it and freed up some gigabytes on my mental hard drive.

Anyway, over the weekend, I posted my 2012 theatergoing list, with its 75 events, on my own blog. Soon after I posted it, a friend tweeted at me, expressing astonishment at the amount of theater I’d seen and commenting “I hope you got comp tickets for most of those.”

Thing is, though, I didn’t. Not that I went broke seeing these shows, either – I take advantage of discounts, and if I were running low on funds, of course I’d cut back on my theatergoing. But I’ve always had a hang-up about asking for comp tickets. I’m fortunate enough to have a stable job that permits me to buy theater tickets at San Francisco prices. And I’m well aware that arts institutions are always cash-strapped and artists never get paid enough. I don’t want to be one of those arrogant youngsters trying to get something for nothing; I want to support the show’s creators. The truly needy and destitute should get the comp tickets, I thought. Not me.

(Yes, this also means that I feel guilty when I buy tickets on Goldstar rather than paying full-price. Perhaps this makes me a hypocrite, but it also makes me consistent in my neuroses.)

People have suggested that because I have a blog where I frequently write about theater, I’d be justified in asking for comp tickets. Nonetheless, that’s always felt like an act of arrogance to me. What gives me the right to demand comp tickets as though I were an accredited member of the press, when any bozo could set up his own blog and do the same thing? I understand that theater companies value the exposure. But I’m hard-pressed to believe that a theater could find 500 words of my prose more valuable than $30 of my money. (Though I hear that that’s about the going rate for freelance arts writers, these days.)

I am hypersensitive to the notion that the arts are in peril due to lack of funding, which means I feel guilty for not spending even more money on art. I bought $10 worth of raffle tickets every night at the Olympians Festival, even though, as a writer, I got in for free. And I feel guilty whenever I go into an independent bookstore and walk out without buying anything. Those news articles about “the death of bookstores” really get to me, so I figure I should make lots of purchases and keep my favorite stores in business. But that’s a dangerous habit, causing me to accumulate books faster than I can read them. Which just leads to more guilt.

And guilt sucks, you know. It impedes productivity, and, I am sure, makes me sound quite insufferable. Agonizing over whether or not to request comp tickets is the very definition of both a humblebrag and a First World Problem. Indeed, doesn’t my attitude hint of sanctimonious do-gooderism? Maybe it’s arrogant to demand comp tickets. But isn’t it also arrogant to think that I can save an indie theater or bookstore singlehandedly, just by spending $20 there every couple of months?

If I am to shake off this guilt, I’ll need to accept my own merits (“I have a well-established blog and can ask for comp tickets”) as well as my own insignificance (“my receiving a comp ticket will not cause this theater to go bankrupt”). Urged by a friend, I made my first attempt to request comp tickets from a theater, and they couldn’t have been nicer about it. And if the theater’s not showing any guilt or hesitation, why should I? I do not take this as a license to expect, or solicit, free tickets to every show I want to see in 2013. But it’s a reminder that it’s OK to relax my self-righteous principles once in a while. And that it never hurts to ask for something, as long as you’re willing to take “no” for an answer.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, arts writer,and theater addict. For more, find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.