It's a strange day when you're excited to score a "deal," and that "deal" is $78.
That's what my ticket for Wicked at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts cost. A friend organized a group outing to the show, which opens Feb. 1, and was able to get a group rate at a discount. A discount! $78!
Entertainment has gotten really expensive, everywhere, all the time, from concerts to live theater. Local professional theater can routinely reach $50 a seat. And I can't even talk about Hamilton. I have tickets to see it in New York City in July, a Christmas gift from my fiance, and we will be in debt forever. I know it will be worth it because I can't leave this green orb without seeing Hamilton, but, geez.
Perspective time. Though prices can be inflated, it's not necessarily an evil overlord plot perpetrated by Batman villains. Artists don't work for free and shows are not cheap to produce. Acts have a right to charge whatever they think the performance commands. And especially for small theaters, box office sales fund a significant portion of operations.
But the reality is, you have to pick your artistic shots if you're on any kind of budget. And most of us are.
There is some relief. The Straz this week announced a lottery for Wicked, helping lucky patrons score $25 tickets. Two and a half hours before each show, would-be winners can slip an entry form into a drum. A half-hour later, someone from the center will draw a limited number of seats. The Straz will hold lotteries through the show's end on Feb. 26. It mimics the generous lottery of Hamilton, which recently increased the number of $10 tickets handed out before each show.
Here are some other ways to expand your performance library without going bankrupt.
Shop Cyber Monday
Christmas came early in 2016 as venues jumped on the Cyber Monday bandwagon. Ruth Eckerd and the Capitol Theatre, the Straz, the Mahaffey Theater and Amalie Arena offered deep discounts on tickets to everything from Bret Michaels to Chubby Checker to the Harlem Globetrotters. I picked up some seats to Aaron Tveit's April show at the Straz. Mark your calendar: Cyber Monday is Nov. 27 this year.
Get a Groupon
Groupon and LivingSocial are your friend with the cool ticket hookup. Right now, there's a deal for Train, O.A.R. and Natasha Bedingfield at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in May, Third Eye Blind at Coachman Park in June and Tampa Spring Jam with Guy, Teddy Riley, Dru Hill, 112 and Tony! Toni! Tone! at the USF Sun Dome in April. And here's one I didn't know until checking with the Straz: Travelzoo is their most frequent partner. Recent deals included Cabaret and the Joshua Bell concert, and there's even one for Wicked.
Subscribe or join
If you gravitate toward a certain venue, getting a membership or a season subscription is the way to go. Plus, membership brings perks. "When we do offer a special deal, we go to members first," said Ruth Eckerd Hall spokeswoman Katie Pedretty. "It's becoming another benefit of membership." She also points out that you get the best seats before the rest of the public, which means you can get a reasonably-priced ticket before someone swoops in and resells them at a jacked-up price somewhere like StubHub.
Go to previews
Local professional theaters let audiences in for "previews," the first couple shows before opening night. Casts are often still working out the kinks, but if you don't mind things slightly raw, they can be a huge savings. Some previews are even "pay what you can." Previews are a great option for St. Petersburg's American Stage and freeFall Theatre, which produce incredible shows but command a pretty penny on weekends.
Seek special events
Fourth Friday in Tampa is a good chance to get discounted admissions to arts and culture venues downtown and catch free live performances, plus deals on dinner nearby. The Straz hosts some free events with live entertainment throughout the year, including the Open House Party in October and Straz Live! in the Park at Curtis Hixon Park in November.
Look for lower prices
It seems obvious, but refined entertainment is within a paycheck's grasp. Tampa Repertory Theatre and Jobsite Theater, both in Tampa, and Hat Trick Theatre in Clearwater offer regular prices that start with a 2. Stageworks Theatre in Tampa comes in around $30. Don't forget about hardworking community theaters like Eight O'Clock Theatre in Largo or Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater, where tickets are less than $30. And you can see a Florida Orchestra performance for just $15, making for a pretty glam night out.
Use your credentials
Don't forget your senior, military and student ID anywhere you go. It never hurts to ask for that discount.