Cue the collective angst.
The public sale comes a month after the arts center’s priority sale for members, a 12- hour marathon on Feb. 28 that attracted as many as 80,000 users to an online waiting room where the majority never made it to the front of the line.
Some who made it to the virtual box office encountered mislabeled ticket prices, performance dates that changed from selection to purchase and high service fees.
“The way this was handled was so poor. I wouldn’t contribute to them again,” said Raymond Scalettar of Potomac, Md., a donor who tried for 12 hours to score seats only to come away empty-handed. “They screwed up royally.”
Kennedy Center officials say a significant number of tickets are available for the 112 performances. Prices range from $99 to $199, with premium seats selling for $625. There will be 40 $10 orchestra seats sold for every performance, but further details about those tickets are not available.
Demand has been high in other cities hosting the musical’s U.S. tour. Thousands of people tried for tickets when Des Moines Performing Arts opened its sale at 9 a.m. Nov. 17. for “Hamiton’s” three-week run at the city’s Civic Center. The public sale followed subscription packages and “priority access for a small group of donors,” said Jonathan Brendemuehl, a spokesman for Des Moines Performing Arts. By 3 p.m., all tickets were sold.
“Hamilton is really unlike anything. I would never compare it to anything else,” Brendemuehl said.
While ticket prices vary according to the location, most premium seats in other cities were priced lower than the top ticket at the Kennedy Center, although some theaters have not released prices for single-ticket sales. The highest-priced seats in Salt Lake City and Des Moines were around $300, and they went for $500 and more in Portland, Ore., and Seattle. Premium seats at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif., cost $600.75, close to the Kennedy Center’s premium seat of $625.
Service fees were less, too. A $345 ticket to a show in Portland, carried a fee of $26.25, about 7.5 percent. Des Moines charged a per-ticket fee that was capped at $15. Segerstrom’s service fee was 13 percent, adding about $78 to the top price. The Kennedy Center charged its regular 14 percent service fee, but that added $87.50 to the most expensive seat, pushing it to $712.50.
Revenue from service charges — which do not apply to in-person sales — support ticketing operations, including credit card fees, staffing and IT infrastructure, as well as education and outreach programs, according to a Kennedy Center spokesman.
Although the initial “Hamilton” tour launched with an extended run in San Francisco, most of this spring’s stops are three weeks long. Shorter runs equal fewer tickets to sell, so the public sales in Seattle, Des Moines and Salt Lake City took less time than the Kennedy Center’s members pre-sale on Feb.28, which began at 10 a.m. and didn’t end until after 10 p.m.
The Kennedy Center declined to say how many members it has, and its executives declined several requests for an interview.
The Kennedy Center, like other organizations hosting the tour, faces the difficult task of serving a broad range of constituents, said Brett Ashley Crawford, assistant teaching professor of arts management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Audiences for popular concert tours understand the competition involved in scoring seats. But the hype surrounding this show makes it difficult to manage audience expectations.
“This is a different marketplace,” Crawford said. “You have to figure out how you can satisfy all your members, from VIPs to kids in schools. They have parsed their available supply in a way that everyone in the community is getting a piece. It’s just that not everyone will get a piece.”
Computer problems also plagued the Kennedy Center members sale, although the high demand did not crash the system as it did for previous sales, such as those for “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon.”
Since the pre-sale, arts center staffers have responded to many complaints and in several situations were able to fix problems. Robert Wieder sent an email complaining that his call was disconnected after six hours on hold. An arts center employee contacted him and then a box office representative offered him the chance to buy two tickets to the June 27 performance.
Stephanie Trachtenberg had a similar experience. A retired schoolteacher, Trachtenberg was in the process of buying four seats when she was kicked out of the online box office. She spent the next few days trying to reach the membership office, and almost two weeks after the sale she was able to buy four tickets.
“I’m happy to get the tickets, of course,” the Burke, Va., resident said in an email. “For future events, I would not recommend this process. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get tickets.”
Headaches associated with “Hamilton” date to May 2016, when Kennedy Center officials announced the U.S. tour would be part of its 2017-2018 season. Officials suggested the best strategy for securing good seats was to subscribe to both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons, causing some patrons to claim extortion. Other venues used this tactic, too.
For this season, subscribers to the Broadway series were seated first, with a second batch of tickets reserved for members, who contribute from $60 to $1,200 a year for perks that can include priority access to tickets, discounts to the restaurants and gift shop, private receptions, and behind-the-scenes experiences. Higher-level members — those giving $3,000 a year and more — have access to the center’s ticket concierge service, which sets aside a set number of seats for every performance for purchase. These are subject to availability.
Longtime supporter Mark Joelson was angered by the decision to give all members the same access.
“After I complained and threatened to discontinue our patron status, the Kennedy Center did phone and agree to sell us tickets for ‘Hamilton,’ ” the Arlington resident said. “But the incident erased the good feeling that we have maintained for the Kennedy Center ever since it opened in 1971. The idea of lumping people who have donated thousands of dollars over many years with people who just paid $60 to get into the ‘pre-sale’ is totally unfair. They should get their act together.”
The Kennedy Center will use the same virtual waiting room for March 26 sale.