Bay Area Improviser Survey Results: Cost of shows

This is part four of the survey blog series. These results are associated with the statistics shared in part one. It is important to remind you that this survey was answered by people in the SF Bay Area improv community (performers, teachers, producers, and students alike) and as such opinions here may vary greatly from the general public who may be interested in watching an improv show purely as an audience member.

Part Two: Attitudes towards watching and performing improv
Part Three: Performance venue, frequency, and nights

How much are you willing to pay for a single improv show (1-2 hours with 1-3 groups performing) with local performers only?

This was a single choice question. The choices below are listed by the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 103

Nothing – I’ll only go if I have free entry: 11 (10.7%)
$5: 16 (15.5%)
$6-10: 25 (24.3%)
$11-15: 25 (24.3%)
$16-20: 20 (19.4%)
$21-25: 5 (4.9%)
$26+: 1 (1%)

Are there any exceptions where you would pay more or less than the amount you listed above?

This was a purely write-in question. All responses are listed below.
Responses: 41

  • Less for jams. Less for grad shows. Less for less than an hour long shows.
  • It depends on the group/show
  • I’d pay more for out of town (LA/NY/Chi) group that has a good rep. But even then, I think more than 20 for an improv show is a non starter for me many times.
  • Experience level
  • If someone like Jane Lynch were performing I’d pay more.
  • I don’t think I should have to pay for jams or grad shows UNLESS they were also happening on the same bill as a group I would pay to see.
  • I have paid more for groups from out of town and have contributed to theaters that need the money. Paying a local theater company more per show for the same groups/performers than when they perform elsewhere because the company has financial problems is not necessarily something I tend to do. I respect every company’s need to break even, but don’t think it is my responsibility to support their business model.
  • Charity show, special event/performer
  • More for a charitable cause. Less for a jam, depending on the size of the institution putting it on.
  • I’d pay more for better production values, musicals (accompanists gotta get paid!) or for highly-regarded groups. Grad/student shows should always cost less than regular performing groups
  • Sure. Skill or novelty higher than what we normally provide.
  • Nope, I live on artists wages.
  • If proceeds went to charity
  • The more experienced the performer, the more I’ll pay. The Right Now or The Trifecta are worth more than some random Endgames or Leela grad team.
  • Would pay more for visiting artists, veteran nationally recognized performers (Susan Messing, TJ and Dave, etc)
  • More for musical improv, less for grad shows.
  • I may pay up to $15 or up to $20 if I feel like it is a very special show, e.g., former local performers with other local performers, good venue with food + public transit + parking, SF improv festival. (It all starts to add up simply with the $5 or $6 bridge toll if driving in.) I have paid $20+ for 3 For All, because I do enjoy their shows and they do not perform regularly.
  • Know the performers or organization well.
  • I currently see all shows free with one company. I will on rare occasion pay up to $20 to see a show that involves a local team that I love if they are a) at a festival, or b) performing with troupes from another company, so that I can show my support as they get to play in front of different audiences than they may be used to and broaden their performance horizons so to speak.
  • Team with strong reputation
  • 3 for All, Awkward Dinner Party, Impro Theater, Improv Playhouse of San Francisco would pay more. These groups are the best of the best.
  • I may pay a little more for a show with its own special cost, such as an accompanist for musical improv.
  • A quick visit to YouTube will determine if a troupe is worth my time (and money).
  • Noobs. Only go if free.
  • Quality and experience of teams
  • Really famous group/theater
  • More: out-of-town, established team with established format, prime time-slot (Fri/Sat)
  • Drunk Theater / other Pianofight shows — PF is expensive but more fun to have a show in
  • If it’s a duo or troupe that I know and really like, I’d pay more.
  • It depends on the quality of the performance/experience level
  • Specific shows or special events I might pay more. Probably less for class shows
  • For a benefit
  • I’d pay more to see Sand (from Chicago) perform.
  • A specific group that I knew was awesome, I’d pay more. If I knew they were probably not awesome, I’d only pay less.
  • Less for student shows/jams. More for renowned actors/actresses.
  • I would primarily attend shows I know will be good or are likely to be good. I take chances on shows, but I wouldn’t advise charging above $10 unless you’re one of the 3 best shows in the city, because if it isn’t top tier for that price I won’t be able to justify supporting a team again, even if they’re developing well and otherwise interesting to watch.
  • If I know the group or some members.
  • Yes, if it’s a group I know is really good and will sell out.
  • There are a few more reknowned and higher skilled groups in the area what would command a higher price for me, but for most groups I wish prices were south of $15.
  • I pay more when it’s a special (not recurring) show or when there’s a troupe I really like and want to learn from.
  • Knew group was quality

How much are you willing to pay for a single improv show (1-2 hours with 1-3 groups performing) with performers visiting from out of town whom you haven’t heard of before?

This was a single choice question. The choices below are listed by the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 102

Nothing – I’ll only go if I have free entry: 11 (10.8%)
$5: 5 (4.9%)
$6-10: 20 (19.6%)
$11-15: 24 (23.5%)
$16-20: 29 (28.4%)
$21-25: 10 (9.8%)
$26+: 3 (2.9%)

Are there any exceptions where you would pay more or less than the amount you listed above?

This was a purely write-in question. All responses are listed below.
Responses: 23

  • It depends on the group/show
  • No.
  • If friends say they’re overrated
  • I might pay more if someone recommended the group to me as being exceptional.
  • Yes, depending on how often the group plays the Bay Area. Also, if the group is incurring a large cost to come to the area, then I might be willing to pay more to facilitate their trip.
  • Same as above conditions
  • For a charitable cause, more.
  • I normally wouldn’t go to a show by a group I’d never heard of. If a friend recommended it, I’d pay the same as for a local group
  • More for supremely talented or innovative shows (TJ & Dave, Jetzo)
  • Artists wages can’t afford tickets
  • If I didn’t know them but knew they were on the main stage of iO/second city/UCB I’d pay more.
  • Is this a very unique show? Is the money helping with their travel, cost? How much is going to the artists directly?
  • More for musical improv.
  • SF Sketchfest shows, improv festival shows, and features at larger venues like the Whose Line folks.
  • Famous group
  • Depends on the performer
  • Sure, I love comps!
  • If they’re “famous”, I’d be willing to pay more. If they’re performing for the first time, I’d want to pay less.
  • It depends on the quality of the performance/experience level
  • Yes, could pay a little more if I heard amazing things about from a friend or review or something
  • Less for student shows/jams. More for renowned actors/actresses.
  • Same; I will generally pay a good price to see a good show.
  • The city or theater/company they are from are the main factors for branding if I haven’t heard of them. NY, Chicago, LA. Recently, San Diego has been building name brand for me simply based on a few good acts I’ve seen from there.

How much are you willing to pay for a single improv show (1-2 hours with 1-3 groups performing) with performers visiting from out of town whom you have heard of before?

This was a single choice question. The choices below are listed by the order they appeared in the survey.
Responses: 100

Nothing – I’ll only go if I have free entry: 9 (9%)
$5: 2 (2%)
$6-10: 7 (7%)
$11-15: 18 (18%)
$16-20: 28 (28%)
$21-25: 26 (26%)
$26+: 10 (10%)

Are there any exceptions where you would pay more or less than the amount you listed above?

This was a purely write-in question. All responses are listed below.
Responses: 18

  • Absolute top limit is 30, for sketchfest quality stars in a nice venue.
  • It depends on the group/show
  • Honestly I’ve seen TJ and Dave for 25 bucks, so anything more than that for anyone else seems crazy to me.
  • Sucky theater
  • I don’t necessarily always relate name recognition with regularly offering a good show. A number of headliners at Bay Area festivals have really left me cold, while the lesser lights stole the shows on the nights they performed.
  • If it was a limited engagement with a version well regarded performer or troupe, I’d pay more.
  • Willing to pay whatever it takes for “special opportunities” to see groups I admire but wouldn’t otherwise see
  • I would not pay much at all for a show in a bar or drunk improv (where improvisors perform under the influence)
  • More for musical Improv
  • SF Sketchfest shows, SF Improv Fest
  • If it’s a non-local team I’ve heard great things about from several people, I’ll pay more, since it may be a rare opportunity that I don’t want to miss.
  • Someone/a group that’s semi-famous, I’ll pay more
  • Same as above.
  • It depends on the quality of the performance/experience level
  • Ladytown with Moyer, Monroe, Duffy
  • Less for student shows/jams. More for renowned actors/actresses.
  • It’s gotta be based on reputation or referral at that point
  • Same – if I have heard the group is really good and will sell out.

Some things to think about

I mentioned in an earlier post that part of my interest in doing this survey was because I’m interested in bringing in improv shows/groups/performers from out of town, and that is certainly part of the reason I separated this question of cost the way I did. Of course, there are a number of other producers (including festivals) who do host out of town groups. Though from what I’ve seen so far, unless it’s a festival, it’s usually been because a group or performer was planning to visit the Bay Area and just has a connection with one of our local theatres, or someone has referred them. These questions of cost are still relevant for them.

A few weekends ago, I was down in LA to see one of my favorite improv groups ever, who were visiting from Honolulu (Oil in the Alley, if you’re curious) and they performed at The Pack Theater. The Pack’s ticket model is different from anything I’ve seen in the Bay Area – the closest I’ve seen here is The Recchia’s free show of “Your F@%#ed Up Relationship” at 10:30pm Friday nights, only because they have a jar at the end that you’re welcome to put money in. The Pack has a “pay what you want” model, with a jar at the front to put cash into on your way in, and also a Venmo account if you don’t have cash. I bring this up because it’s an option producers might want to consider after seeing some of the results above, depending on the show. From my end, for it being a show where people traveled from out of town to perform, and me driving that distance to go see them, I was a little scared of the model because I worried it would sell out and I wouldn’t get in — I’m someone who likes to have the option of purchasing a ticket in advance. But I’d probably be okay with it in other circumstances. Or perhaps having a hybrid “tickets in advance, but if they’re not sold out, pay what you want at the door” model.

One thing I have seen with respect to tickets in the Bay Area that I like is discount codes for improvisers — we are probably more likely to see more improv shows than the general public, so it’s a nice way of saying “thanks for being part of the community, I know there’s a lot you could go to, so here’s some incentive for you to come to this one.”

ADDENDUM: Regarding grad shows (since there were some comments about those above), I have a couple of comments. Of the theatres I’m familiar with, some offer free tickets to grad shows, which I think probably helps fill out the audience for some of those shows, and it makes sense especially if it’s a lower level improv class. The main theatre I trained with — Leela — doesn’t have grad shows until level 4 (and I was in the first level 4 class that had a grad show, and that class was made up of a decent number of experienced improvisers because we all wanted to take the class with Joe Liss). Leela’s grad shows are part of their regular show schedule and aren’t priced any different… and often sell out. So I don’t think there’s a problem with their model, it’s more a question of who is willing to pay for those shows (I believe it’s more likely friends and family than other improvisers), and the level of experience of the grads. Meanwhile, the level 7 class I took with Leela was subsequently booked for more shows (and in fact, we have another show next month, on July 28, more than a year after the class ended).

If you have any additional thoughts about cost of improv shows that weren’t mentioned in this post, feel free to leave a comment below!

Up Next

Part 5 will cover “Experience with Theatres and Festivals”
Part 6 will cover “Technology and Marketing, and Last Words”

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