High culture on the cheap

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August 23, 2004 // UPDATED 3:27 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Hayley Tsukayama
Hayley Tsukayama

The skinny on student, senior, 'rush' and free theater tickets

High culture and low prices are rarely considered compatible. However, before you decide you can't afford to catch a star-studded performance (or even pay for binoculars-required seats . . . or quiet-sneak-in shoes) consider taking advantage of oft-neglected discount or rush line tickets, or volunteer to usher and see a show for free.

Discounts and rush lines

Rush lines may seem unconventional to the uninitiated, but they've been around for years Downtown and are well established at most venues around the country.

Since performances rarely sell out, there are frequently a few stray seats strewn throughout the hall begging to be filled just before showtime. Many ticket offices offer these seats at a reduced rate a half-hour to an hour (although, sometimes as briefly as 10 minutes) before the curtain rises.

Sold either first-come, first-served or by lottery, rush tickets are greatly reduced in price. For example, at the Guthrie Theater, 1211 Vineland Place, instead of the regular $44 pricetag, the rush ticket goes for just $12.50.

The Guthrie's is a "public rush," meaning it is open to one and all. However, some rush lines are restricted to students and/or seniors.

Lisa Krohn, a spokesperson with the Hennepin Theater Trust that co-operates the Pantages, Orpheum and State theaters, said rush lines are used as extra outreach tools.

Theoretically, the three historic theaters, located between 7th and 10th streets on Hennepin Avenue South, could make more money selling last-minute tickets at full price, especially to popular shows, Krohn said.

Rush tickets are used to target certain demographics. "If it's a show that is going to appeal more to college students, but they can't afford tickets, then we offer student rush," she said.

For their latest Broadway shows, "Hair" at the Pantages and "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Orpheum, rush lines were offered Sunday-Thursday and were student- and cash-only. The "Hair" rush offered $20 pairs of tickets (you couldn't buy a single), just down the street, "Phantom" rush tickets went for $20 apiece.

According to an anonymous ticket agent, a recent "Hair" show sold over 20 pairs of student rush tickets in 20 minutes; the agent added that this was within the normal range of 20-40 student rush tickets per night.

Krohn guessed that student rush is the most common kind offered because students are commonly viewed as the group with the most limited income that is most likely to come to shows offering reduced prices.

Many theaters also offer discounts for students, seniors and, on occasion, people with lower incomes. As the average discount is rarely more than one-third off, rush tickets, when available, are often the cheaper, but riskier, way to go.


While not for the fickle theater lover, volunteer ushering can be the perfect way to sate one's theatrical appetite. In exchange for handing out programs, perhaps folding them beforehand, and occasionally directing people to their seat, ushers get into the show they're working at for free.

Miriam Must of Red Eye Theater, 15 W. 14th St., said people shouldn't be shy about ushering. Must said the nonprofit Loring Park theater known for cutting-edge and multidisciplinary work is pleased to offer this option, and considers it an especially effective way to "cultivate a younger theater audience."

The Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., also offers volunteer ushering opportunities. Michelle Greene, the Southern's volunteer coordinator, said that while the theater's proximity to Augsburg and the University of Minnesota appeals to many students, they see ushers of all ages and backgrounds.

Greene said not to be intimidated by the volunteer application process, which she described as "fairly informal." Basically, volunteers select shows they're interested in, the office checks the schedule and, more often than not, slots them to work at the show they want to see. "We normally need about six ushers a night," Greene said of the theater's ability to place people in their preferred spots.

Beyond that, Southern Theater ushers are required to wear black and white and simply show up about an hour before their first show for a quick, one-time training so they're comfortable and confidant as showtime approaches.