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Four-letter word for convenience? Clue: It's not 'toll'

People pass works of art displayed on digital

People pass works of art displayed on digital billboards in Times Square August 4, 2014 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty/Eric Thayer

Anyone who's traveled by plane and wanted leg room or bought a smartphone that had to be activated, or wanted to go to a sporting event or a Broadway show, has come smack up against the four-letter word fees -- the extras tacked onto the transaction.

Considered a major theatrical occasion, The Royal Shakespeare Company production of "Wolf Hall" Parts One and Two begins previews tomorrow and opens on Broadway April 9.

Buyers originally were told they'd have to see both plays. Most people go to the theater in pairs. For each individual seat ordered online or by phone, Telecharge adds $9.50 for service, plus $2.75 to $4.50 for handling, depending on whether buyers want to print the tickets themselves, have them snail mailed or held at the box office. Four orders translates to $38 in service fees plus up to $18 in handling charges, for a possible grand total of $56 in addition to the cost of the individual packages (starting at $150).

For each single order, Ticketmaster tacks on for service, for order processing and, sometimes, for delivery. Many of the nonprofit performance companies waive extra charges for subscribers. Short of signing on to multiple organizations or buying in person, customers are like travelers on a bridge, prisoners of tolls.

My schedule makes it difficult to get to the various sellers, but I live in Manhattan so I have a choice. For "Wolf Hall," I got to the box office. Those who can't are ordering online and being charged extra for it. My total for the two plays was $325, including an ubiquitous facility fee, but no other extras. Prospective audience members must have made their displeasure known about being forced to see both plays, because the producers recently offered single-show tickets.

The Broadway League, representing producers and theater owners, says attendance and grosses were up in 2014, bringing in $1.36 billion, but many people skip live performances altogether. Some have made them something that's done rarely. Victims of price-gouging fees are usually isolated, the buyers of their own experiences. What is needed is a consumer advocacy movement to stop capricious charges. Short of that, we'll have to make case-by-case decisions and walk away from whatever we can.

That can't be good for NYC's live-performance business, can it?

Leida Snow is a former theater critic.


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