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How to get cheap theatre tickets in Melbourne

Theatre-going for penny-pinchers: our tips to getting the best view from the cheap seats

By Andrew Fuhrmann and Time Out editors |
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Photograph: Matt Murphy

Venerable American theatre critic Jonathan Kalb once remarked that the only way to really enjoy theatre was in large doses. The playwright Terrence McNally recommends three nights a week at a minimum. Excellent advice! But what about your precious doubloons? That much theatre doesn't come cheap – not unless you strategise.

Not sure what to see? Read up on our latest theatre, musical and dance reviews.

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Production Shot on stage at Jersey Boys
Photograph: Supplied/Jeff Busby

Make a group booking

Most venues offer discounts group bookings, many for groups as low as eight. That's, like, what? Four couples? Two families? One book club? Easy.

This is especially useful for those big musicals at the top end of town. Ticketek and Ticketmaster have their own group bookings department where you can expect to save between $5 and $20 per ticket depending on the promoter. The advantage of a group discount is you won't get stuck in seat ZZ 99 for the sake of saving a few bucks. Just the opposite: you might end up with a few perks thrown in.

Production shot at The Lady in the Van
Photograph: Jeff Busby

Score a subscription

Duh. Of course, taking out a season or part-season subscription will save you money. But don't forget that subscriptions aren't just for the big "arts precinct" companies. You can also purchase season tickets for ambitious independents.

At a place like Red Stitch you can save almost 25 per cent per ticket by signing up for a full season. You might also consider purchasing subscriptions to smaller companies that don't have a permanent venue.

Sweet Phoebe Red Stitch 2019
Photograph: Teresa Noble

Use your concession

Again, duh. You don't need us to tell you that most venues offer some kind of concession rate for "eligible card holders". But wait – there's more! Many companies also have rush tickets – discounted concession tickets available on the morning of the performance. That is, they have discounts on the already discounted concession tickets. Double win!

For example, Red Stitch rush tickets are $15 for students, available at the door 30 minutes before the curtain, while the MTC have seat savers at $25 for concession holders (full-time students, pensioners, MEAA), available every Tuesday between 11am and 4pm for performances over the next seven days. You can purchase your seat savers tickets in person at the Southbank Theatre box office or online using the code "SEATSAVERS". Occasionally, the MTC also have standing-room tickets which are available to all comers. There’s no set price for standing-room tickets but the discount is usually pretty hefty.

On stage prodcution shot at Spartacus Australian Ballet
Photograph: Supplied/Jeff Busby

Buy a yoof ticket

Believe or not, some companies think the performing arts appeal only to greyheads; in order attract the yoof dollar, many offer discount tickets to patrons under 30, the Australian Ballet even has an under 18 rate.

Underground Railroad Game Malthouse 2019
Photograph: Ben Arons

Head to a preview or matinee

Previews can always be relied on to save you a couple of bucks at least, be it indie theatre or a main stage production.

West Side Story Opera Australia 2018
Photograph: Nilz Boehme and Johan Persson

Keep up with social media

"Enter your promo code here." But where does one find said code? Usually Facebook, Twitter or the ol' email newsletter. Practically every company, as well as many artists, engage with their audience this way. Amongst the rampant spruiking, social media is also a veritable goldmine for giveaways and special offers. How else would you find out about the inevitable tight-arsed Tuesday specials?

Arts Centre Tower Melbourne
Photograph: Creative Commons

Use a discount outlet

There's a bunch of these online – like Lasttix – but it's curious how much a show's success depends on the image of success. If word gets around that a show is "selling out fast", people are more likely to front up for a ticket; but – as producers will tell you – if a show is advertised as two-for-one, audiences sometimes shy away, following the logic that a show must be pretty ordinary if they have to lure audiences in with discounts.

That's why it pays sometimes to stick your head in at Halftix on Swanston Street. Although, for the sake of image, a producer might not want their show advertised at a discount online, they might still make tickets available to those who front up in person on the day. Word to the wise: they only accept cash here.

Arts Centre Melbourne have their own version of this: tixatsix. Head to the box office on Level 5 of the theatre's building (under the spire) from 6pm each day and join the tixatsix line to purchase $30 tickets to a show that night. A minimum of 20 tickets are on offer each night, and you won't know which shows – across their entire program of theatre, ballet, contemporary dance, cabaret, circus, opera and more – are up for grabs until you get there. Your limit is 2 tickets per person.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Photograph: Matt Murphy

Try your luck with a lottery

Same-day ticket lotteries are common for blockbuster shows in Broadway and on the West End, and if you've ever queued up to score last-minute theatre tickets in New York or London, you'll know they're super popular. Australia is new to the game, but a bunch of major musicals have run lotteries in recent years. The Book of Mormon had a $40 ticket lottery for all of its 2017 run. 

Now Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has a digital lottery for its run, with 40 seats available at every performance for $40 (so $80 for both parts). These are known as Friday Forties, and will be released each Friday for the following week's performances.

Romeo and Juliet Australian Shakespeare Company
Photograph: Supplied

Take a look at TodayTix

TodayTix is quite a big deal in London and New York and has only just launched in Melbourne. If you've got theatre-going friends in those cities, you've probably seen them posting links to TodayTix – because they encourage you to do so to enter lotteries and score super cheap tickets.

They're selling tickets to some pretty major shows in Melbourne – including Malthouse and Melbourne Theatre Company shows – but don't have quite the same discounts as you might expect in London or New York. But they are running the digital lottery for Harry Potter and the Cursed Childso it's easy to imagine they'll continue to grow their offering.

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