When I was a teenager I played in a string quartet. We spent an afternoon once 'busking' in a local park near the tea shop. A few people dropped in some change and the occasional fiver while we were playing but when we'd finished, a lady who'd sat and listened for the full two hours came over and gave us £20. She explained that she'd pay at least that for a concert in a concert hall and that's what she thought her experience was worth. 

I've just come across this report about a concert in Spain this week, at which the promoters are giving concert-goers an opportunity to do exactly that: Pay what they choose to on leaving the gig, rather than in advance of it. 

This can be seen as quite a brave move - What if no-one pays? What if they hate it? What if we can't cover the venue hire? 

On the other hand it may be a way to raise much more in ticket revenue than you perhaps might have done by setting a ticket price. 

It's becoming more common for theatres and arts venues to offer the 'pay what you can' model but I haven't heard of one letting people see the piece before they choose how much to pay. Do you think it would work for theatre? 

I feel like it is a great idea but you do have to be really, really confident in the quality of your work. At least you'd know straight away whether people liked it or not! 

Would you try it? Have you tried it? 

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Comment by Anne Langford on April 5, 2013 at 8:06

Hannah Nicklin http://www.hannahnicklin.com has also been doing this with her Performances in the Pub, some really interesting conversations at D&D this year about the subject - have a look at the reports.

Comment by Matt Ball on April 4, 2013 at 0:30

I'm pretty sure Northern Stage used to do "Pay what you thought it was worth" shows in the studio, where you paid at the end. They also offered a money back guarantee where as long as you filled in a form saying why you didn't like the show they'd give you your money back.

Comment by Andy Evans on April 3, 2013 at 18:34

I have recently worked with Slung Low Theatre who are based at the Holbeck Underground Ballroom in Leeds. All of their events for this 12 month period are run on this basis and I have watched them perform their 15 Minutes Live Event and watched Idle Motion perform Borges & I. The jar at the end of the event is never empty. I am sure if you wanted to know more you could contact Porl Cooper who is the venue manager for Slung Low. You can find both the company and Porl on Twitter if you would like to know more about how it works.

Comment by Ben Atterbury on April 3, 2013 at 15:49

This is a really interesting post - worth noting that this sort of model is how the Edinburgh Free Fringe is run, audiences are encouraged but not compelled to make whatever donation they can, often depending upon whether they enjoyed the show, rather than feeling entirely obliged. When we took a show up to the free fringe back in 2011 we would get everything from a tenner right down to a few coppers. It would be interesting to see this model experimented with in more theatre; I think it would certainly encourage in audience who don't necessarily see a lot of theatre ordinarily. However, you'd need to be very confident in covering any losses you might make, and I think the reality is that with ticket prices already quite high, it isn't a system which is likely to be financially lucrative. In terms of accessibility, however, I think it's a great idea.

Comment by Jen Thornton on April 3, 2013 at 15:43

Update: Apparently the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton do this on their Wild Card nights. More here

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