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  •   Tickets: High (-Fee) Culture

    By David Segal
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, November 22, 1998; Page H5

    Giving the gift of high and low culture is now a cinch courtesy of the Internet. There are World Wide Web sites selling tickets for opera, theater, ballet and rock shows, some of them featuring an impressive collection of listings and buying options. The tricky part is not getting gouged.

    I learned that while shopping for tickets for my sister and her husband, who live in Boston and enjoy an evening of theater as much as the next set of yuppies.

    My first stop was CultureFinder (culturefinder.com), a three-year-old arts listing site covering 1,700 venues nationwide and claiming to offer booking and ticketing information to more than 200,000 events.

    The site allows a narrowly tailored search: Users type in the name of a city and then dates that interest them.

    Up pops a list of options. And there are plenty of them in Boston during the holiday season: Music lovers can choose a night with the Boston Pops Orchestra, ballet fans can watch the Nutcracker at the Ballet Theater, and the list goes on.

    What caught my eye, however, was the road show of Blue Man Group, a New York-based trio of performance artists who paint their bald heads cobalt-blue and then bang loudly on drums.

    A handy link to Blue Man Group's Web site included some positive reviews of the show, said to be noisier and messier than a cafeteria food fight. Better yet, the Blue Men were auditioning for cast members for their Boston shows! I fired off an e-mail extolling my brother-in-law's charisma and keen love of drumming.

    CultureFinder listed the time and date of all of Blue Man Group's Boston appearances at the Charles Theater. Consumers can buy through the site, but there's a $4.50-per-seat service charge over and above fees charged by the theater or its ticketing agency, in this case industry giant Ticketmaster Corp. And CultureFinder takes one business day to figure out whether tickets are actually available; customers are notified by e-mail.

    It's cheaper and faster to contact theaters directly. Many sell tickets, others bounce consumers to Ticketmaster or one of its rivals.

    Ticketmaster has an efficient, though occasionally glitch-prone, site selling tickets in a real-time system via the Internet.

    Unfortunately, there's no price break on those much-reviled service and handling fees for online buyers. A pair of $39 Blue Man Group tickets sold for $90.75 after Ticketmaster's add-ons; using CultureFinder would have cost another $9. Then again, if my brother-in-law passes his audition, he'll get in for free.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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