On being ... an unintended consequence

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ve been a subscriber to a local theatre company for about 15 years. This year, however, I’ve decided not to re-subscribe. I think I made the right decision, but I’m a bit embarrassed by what ultimately drove my decision.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the reasons has to do with wanting to watch my discretionary spending these days. Mind you, as entertainment spending goes, the theatre tickets are quite reasonable. On a per-ticket basis, last year each ticket cost me just $17. But, the ticket price isn’t the only out-of-pocket expense related to going to the theatre. There’s parking (or the cost of public transport to/from the theatre), and I usually grab a bite before the show with my girlfriend who shares the subscription with me. So the cost does have a way of creeping higher.
Another reason has to do with the fact that I also have a subscription to a documentary series, which has monthly screenings. Depending on when the theatre performances fall, occasionally I end up going to a play and a documentary on back-to-back nights, which makes for a busy week. (If I had my druthers, the theatre and documentaries would be more evenly spaced throughout the winter months.)
Both those have been issues I’ve weighed in the past, but they haven’t stopped me from re-subscribing. (Over the years I have scaled back my theatre subscription, going from seeing all the productions – they have a main stage and a black box theatre – to just seeing those on the main stage.) So, why the change of heart? The only way to understand is to consider the reasons I subscribed all these years.
First, and foremost, I love live theatre. It’s one of my favourite forms of entertainment. And the theatre company made it easy to be a subscriber. Besides the healthy discount from the per ticket price, they have a very liberal exchange policy for subscribers (so long as you phone more than 24 hours before the performance). It’s much easier to commit to specific performances months in advance if you know that if something comes up and you can’t go on the date of your tickets, you’re not going to have to miss the show altogether or be penalized if you need to change the tickets.
But one of the most important reasons I subscribed was because it meant I’d definitely get out and see some plays. There’s lots of theatre going on in Toronto and I try to keep up with the reviews. But by the time I hear about an interesting-sounding play, invariably the run is almost over, or tickets are hard to come by (or expensive), or I can’t find anyone to join me on short notice. When you have a subscription, you go. Also, with a subscription I’m more likely to see plays that I might otherwise not see, based on their subject matter or review. Sure, there have been some plays that, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have minded not seeing, but when that’s happened I chalk it up to expanding my cultural horizons – stretching, if you will.
In years past, I re-subscribed as soon as I got the first renewal notice. This year, for no particular reason, I put off renewing. Then, in late August the theatre e-mailed about a special deal: buy one, get one at half price. I couldn’t tell if the deal was for subscriptions or for tickets for separate shows. I went on-line to see if I could figure it out, but I couldn’t.
A couple weeks later I got a call from the theater company asking me to renew. I took the opportunity to ask about the buy one, get one at half price deal. Price-wise, the final cost of that deal was similar to the discount on two tickets by subscription, but the sales person explained that only subscribers get the benefit of the ticket exchange policy. I told her I’d think about it.
Last week they called again. This time they told me about a new deal they’re offering returning subscribers. If I buy a four- or six-show package they’ll throw in an extra show. With the season about to start, I knew I couldn’t put it off much longer and I said, “Fine – we’ll take the four show package for the same night and same seats we had last year”. The sales person was pleased and then asked which shows we want. I said we want the main stage shows, which is what we’ve had for the past few years.
He then explained that the multi-show packages are “completely flexible” and so subscribers get to choose the shows they want. He also mentioned that they’ve added more shows to the main stage and some of them have shorter runs, so we’d have to pick specific nights for each show. He seemed excited about all the options and choices available. He suggested I check out the descriptions on-line and choose the shows I want.
But that’s just it. I don’t want to have to pick and choose different shows and coordinate with my girlfriend determining the dates for different plays. I don’t want to work that hard. If I wanted to pick and choose, I’d wait until each show premiers and is reviewed, and then I’d decide if it’s something that sounds interesting enough to go to.
So, there you have it. I’ve decided not to re-subscribe because I can’t be bothered to choose. I suspect the theatre company has decided to give subscribers “complete flexibility” because they think that will appeal to folks. I wonder, however, if they considered there might be some of us who don’t want to have to make so many decisions and who decide, instead, to make just one decision – the decision not to renew. 
© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


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