How much is "pay what you can"?

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

Few theater discounts sound better than "pay what you can." But how low can you really go without embarrassment? And what do you give up?

We scoped out Woolly Mammoth Theatre, which pioneered the PWYC concept locally in 1987 and now sets aside every show's first two performances as PWYC nights. Many, if not most, area theaters now have similar offers.

What did folks pay? On average, between $5 and $10 a ticket, for seats that fetch up to $62 full price. The lowest was a Sacagawea dollar; the highest, $20. What's the catch? Time. At Woolly, the line starts at 5 p.m. for an 8 p.m. curtain. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m., and tickets typically disappear in less than 30 minutes.

Not willing to wait? offers half-price tickets (plus a 12 percent service charge) to almost every area theater. Visit the TicketPlace booth at 407 Seventh St. NW, and get an in-person recommendation. Goldstar (, a national alternative, offers similar deals for a few cents more. Seats are "best available," meaning your ticket could be a seventh-row aisle seat or a nose-bleed.

One last tip: Why pay top dollar for a blockbuster? Select touring shows at the National Theatre -- although not the current "Jersey Boys" -- offer what are known as rush tickets. Released through a lottery a couple of hours before curtain, they feature discounts of as much as 75 percent off full price. Call the National box office (202-628-6161) for availability.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

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