I like to go to the theater every night of the week. There’s nothing that gets me more excited than finding a local company with more than three shows a week, a Saturday matinee, or, best of all, a Monday night performance. To score my daily fix, I have to find the cheapest way possible to get to all these shows. A recent week had me seeing seven shows in seven days for $70 and honestly, two of those shows were “pay what you want,” so if I were even cheaper, I could have paid as little as $35 for seven shows.
You need to do a little legwork on your own as far as checking all these websites to see what the theater companies below are offering and when. Much of what I’ve discovered about these theaters’ discounts have been through their social media posts, so ‘Like’ all their Facebook pages and follow all their Instagram accounts. Another great resource is an email blast at firstname.lastname@example.org; just shoot them a line and say “subscribe me” and get hundreds of postings on what’s going on in the Capital Region.
Here’s what’s out there to find theater on the cheap.
Pay What You Want Previews
My favorite option. There are four theaters, that I know of, that have these in place right now. DENIZEN Theatre in New Paltz, Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill (who also have a “pay what you want” first Sunday performance), Albany Civic Theater and Schenectady Civic Players. It’s the first public performance open to the public and you’re invited and welcome to pay as little or as much as you want for the show. It’s great for the theatre in that they get a jumpstart on their word-of-mouth publicity and they get a friendly, vocal audience before the reviewers show up. Every theater should do this. If you’re taking advantage of this generous offer, do the theater a solid and post something nice about the show.
Summer’s coming and the parks will be alive with Shakespeare! Besides our glorious Park Playhouse performing “In the Heights” and “Newsies” in July and August, there are also two Saratoga Shakespeare shows and Will Kempe’s Players will be touring “Hamlet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” throughout area parks.
Pittsfield Shakespeare in the Park and Confetti Stage are both doing “Much Ado About Nothing” this summer. I’m sure there are many more happening in green spaces throughout the northeast I’m unaware of; let me know what you find! These are all free.
The very well-regarded Theater Voices company performs classic and contemporary works as “on-book” staged readings, read and directed by the very best theater artists in the Capital Region. Schenectady Civic Players have made readings part of their season and have four of them downstairs in a cabaret setting. Home Made Theater also has readings as part of their season, which is worth checking out. All free. Williamstown Theatre Festival has a very upscale series of readings at The Clark Art Museum called Fridays @ 3. There’s a $5 ticket charge that will get you a star-studded audience and cast with a new play and playwright often on the next rung to national acclaim.
Every theater will accept any help you can provide with wide open arms and the best compensation will be free performances. Help can come in the form of ushering, concessions, bartending, set crew, costumes, props or whatever you can think of that can go into a show. There’s always a need for help.
We have excellent college theater programs in the area who have enormous resources to put on a show from fully staffed design shops to extensive rehearsal time and space, always charging less than what you’ll find in the community theater. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $15 for a college show and the presentation value is phenomenal. You’ll also often find more adventurous material in school performances. Skidmore has a fantastic studio series that gives their student directors and actors opportunities to try out passion projects with minimal production values in a black box space. This year I saw “HIR,” “The Baltimore Waltz” and “The Author’s Voice” by Greenberg, all free. Many high schools in the area often introduce Capital Region premieres.
Box Office Discounts
Many theaters feature director’s or playwright’s showcases and often offer these for free. There are also one-off productions like Sand Lake Center for the Arts’ Matinee Theatre Players lunchtime productions or Opera Saratoga’s presentation of a children’s story as an opera hosted by Schenectady Civic Players, both free. Williamstown Theatre Festival has two weekends of Fellowship productions. Free shows directed by up-and-coming artists with the apprentice company are always a highlight of the festival for us. I was lucky enough to see one of the hottest directors—Lila Neugebauer’s “Mad Foresta”—a few years back.
Tickets are available half price for many shows in the Berkshires at various locations. You can check this website to see what’s available the day of and details on how to purchase.
Not So Common Players
Finally, there’s NSCP: a local company that been presenting free theater for the past 18 years. This includes outdoor summer shows in The Commons and usually three other shows in shifting locations from the Clifton Park Library to Shenendehowa High School. How do they do it? It is funded and supported for the most part by the Town of Clifton Park. Every town should have their own theater company.
Patrick White is a Capital Region actor/director/educator who recently directed “The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington” by James Ijames for Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate, NY Inc. at Sage Colleges Meader Little Theatre June 7-16.
“In the Heights” by Lin Manuel Miranda & Quiara Alegria Hudes
Park Playhouse | June 28-July 27
The “Hamilton” creator’s first Broadway hit about the neighborhood he grew up in, what he loves about it, and what he holds close and left behind. Two Pulitzer winners on this show grace the stage at the Washington Park Boathouse this summer. Attend for free and make your voice heard for new Broadway music being produced in the Park.
“Show Boat” by Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II
Glimmerglass Festival | July 6-Aug. 24
The rarely produced, groundbreaking American musical which dealt frankly with race gets the opera house treatment at Glimmerglass this summer. This epic, forty-year story about the Mississippi river boat, The Delta Blossom, steams into Cooperstown featuring “Ol’ Man River,” “Make Believe” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.”
“The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World” by Joy Gregory & Gunnar Madsen
Bridge Street Theatre | July 11-21
The Capital Region premiere of this offbeat story of a girl group in the sixties who were driven to rock music by their domineering obsessive father and produced a single classic, cult album which is alternately revered and deplored. Starring Bridge Street Theatre mainstays Steven Patterson and Molly Parker Myers. A must-see.
“Grand Horizons” by Bess Wohl
Williamstown Theatre Festival | July 17-28
The world premiere of this comedy about Bill & Nancy:married for 50 years, can finish each other’s sentences and know each other’s snores. Everything is calm until Nancy wants out. Their two adult sons descend on their retirement community and the family’s walls start crumbling down. By the author of “Small Mouth Sounds And Make Believe,” which we loved at Hartford Stage last season.