The Off Broadway incubator Ars Nova will allow audience members to pay what they wish for theater tickets in a new initiative called “What’s Ars Is Yours: Name Your Price,” the company announced on Wednesday.
“It’s not income based, it’s not age based, there’s no demographic basis,” said Renee Blinkwolt, the producing executive director of Ars Nova. “It’s just radically acceptable — the doors are wide open to any and everyone to pay what they will.”
Beginning on Oct. 6, theatergoers can choose their ticket price for any Ars Nova show at its base on West 54th Street in Hell’s Kitchen — as well as the company’s two productions at Greenwich House — for its 2022-23 season. Tickets will start at $5 and increase in $5 increments up to $100 per ticket.
Ars Nova’s Off Broadway season includes the world premiere of “Hound Dog” (Oct. 6-Nov. 5), in which a young musician returns to her hometown, Ankara, Turkey, to look after her widowed father, and the world premiere of “(pray)” (March 9-April 15), a choreopoem that follows the form of a Sunday Baptist Church service while transporting audiences to an ancestral forest.
Tickets to Ars Nova’s most recent production, “Oratorio for Living Things,” started at $35 and went up to $95 for premium seats. In a time of persistent drops in attendance, removing the financial barrier could be the extra incentive that gets people to the theater.
Talks around a name-your-own price model started around this time last year, Blinkwolt said, knowing that audiences might feel nervous returning to in-person performances. After a year of planning and debating, the company is introducing the initiative for its 20th-anniversary season — and second in-person season since the start of the pandemic — during “a time of great change and transition,” Blinkwolt said.
The pay-what-you-wish tickets idea is, of course, nothing new. For instance, in 2013, the Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., instituted “Forum for All,” under which patrons could attend performances for as little as 25 cents. And in 2017, the Off Broadway play “Afterglow,” offered 10 pay-what-you-wish tickets to some performances at the Loft at the Davenport Theater.
Still, having that ticketing for an entire season could signal a new standard in arts accessibility in New York City. Ars Nova says it will treat the effort as a learning experiment, with plans to assess the financial impact at the end of the year along with evaluating if the model succeeded in motivating attendance and diversifying the demographics of the audience.
“My hope is that people are curious about it, they’re excited about it, and they build back that habit of getting together with friends, enjoying each other’s company in real time and space and taking in a show,” Blinkwolt said.