Free Tickets for Community College Students—Part 1

In this special two-part series, Director and Educator Daphnie Sicre discusses opportunities and strategies to offer free theatre tickets to community college students in New York City and beyond.

Back in October 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation and the producers of Hamilton announced they would finance a program to bring over 20,000 New York City eleventh graders from all schools with high percentages of students from low income families to see the Broadway sensation during the spring and through 2017 for $10. By June 2016, the Rockefeller Foundation made a second announcement that over 100,000 students from around the United States would also see Hamilton for $10. They pledged $6 million to expand the program, and create a national program set to take hold in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

Although this program is absolutely amazing, I can not help but wonder: what about my community college students? In 2015, EducationNext featured a study done by Jay P. Greene, Collin Hitt, Anne Kraybill, and Cari A. Bogulski, who focused on how live theatre enhances knowledge, tolerance, and much more. They note:

Among students who are assigned by lottery to see live theatre, knowledge of the plots of those plays as well as the vocabulary used in those productions is significantly enhanced, above and beyond what they learn by reading those works or by seeing film versions…Seeing live theatre may be particularly beneficial in teaching students to recognize the emotions of others.

Sometimes we take for granted the fact that we as theatre educators can see theatre whenever we wish. We sometimes forget our students might have never seen a play in their entire lives.

Unfortunately, this study was only done with high school students and no such studies have been done at the college level. I teach “Introduction to Theatre” at the Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY in New York City, and I will not see the benefits of this program until at least fall of 2017. Hopefully, by then I will get at least one or two students in my classes who will be able to partake in this program. Yet right now, most of my students sitting in my “Intro to Theatre” course have never seen a play.

Sometimes we take for granted the fact that we as theatre educators can see theatre whenever we wish. We sometimes forget our students might have never seen a play in their entire lives. This is a reality I am confronted with every semester I teach “Intro to Theatre.” When I ask my thirty students to raise their hands and share what plays they have seen, usually only five out of thirty have ever seen a play.

We even have theatre majors who have never seen a play, but they still want to major in theatre. They are drawn to the idea of live performance regardless of never having experienced it. Imagine if they did? Imagine if they could afford to see Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. While my students may live in New York City, most of them site “cost” as a major factor in preventing them from actually going to theatre. Our college is three stops away from the Theatre District, yet most of them have never set foot in the area. In addition to being turned off by high prices, they are completely unaware of student discounts and other opportunities and alternatives to paying for the full cost of a ticket. Granted, there are lots of Broadway and Off-Broadway companies with connections and programs for students, but these programs are specific to high schools. And if their school was not part of these programs, they didn’t have the chance to see a play. Unfortunately, there are rarely any professional theatre programs set up to work directly with community college students.

Granted, there are lots of Broadway and Off-Broadway companies with connections and programs for students, but these programs are specific to high schools.

Funny thing is, when I was a graduate student at New York University, our listserv always had opportunities to see free theatre in NYC. Even as an alumni, I still have access to this listserv and learn of many opportunities to see theatre for free, or at a discounted rate. At Marymount Manhattan College, where I adjunct, students and faculty have access to see free Broadway and Off-Broadway productions multiple times throughout the year. But my community college never gets those invites. My community college students are not sent emails with free, or discounted tickets. If we do receive invitations, they are promotions to shows, and the cost of the ticket is usually at full price; thus, unaffordable to our students.

Fortunately, my Theatre Program Director Katherine Kavanagh saw this problem over ten years ago. For the past ten years, she has established connections with theatres, created free programs to see NYC theatre, and founded partnerships that allow our students to see theatre for free. Her graduate work in Theatre Management at Columbia University focused on bridging the gap between the college campuses and professional theatres, and she has used it to create opportunities for our students to see theatre.

First she created a program called “Chit Chat” that enabled seventy-five of our students to attend two main stage productions at a minimal cost through a partnership with the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). TDF has been supporting high school students for over forty years, but their work was exclusive to high schools, not colleges. Fortunately, when Kavanagh approached them to expand their program, they were on board.  

The program ran for three years exclusively for BMCC students before it expanded to other CUNY schools. Once it expanded, however, the former CUNY Chancellor decided to rotate the program to different campuses and target non-theatre majors. The program would rotate to different colleges, and expand to include not only theatre students but all students. Although it was wonderful to create these opportunities, once the program left BMCC, our students no longer had access to shows.

audience members posing for a photo
First timetheatregoers from Prof. Sicre's Intro to Theatre Class at the revival of Lips Together, Teeth Apart with America Ferrera at Second Stage. Photo courtesy of Daphnie Sicre.

Immediately, Kavanagh devised a new plan. She started calling theatres and not-for-profits to establish new connections. One of the first theatres to say yes was Second Stage Theatre. Through their Educational Program, they devised a way to support free tickets for college students by asking current subscribers who weren’t donors to donate by adding an additional subscription for a BMCC student. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the program quickly grew. Kavanagh immediately offered to act as liaison to expand to other CUNY community colleges. Anywhere from twenty to 100 BMCC students attend each of Second Stage's Second Generation shows.

But the program, Second Generation is not just about seeing free theatre, it is much more than that. The students are treated to a reception, where they get to meet the patrons who paid for their subscriptions. Then after the show, they get to participate in a private Q&A session featuring the actors, directors, and designers of the show. During the reception, Kavanagh gives her students a challenge: speak to at least three donors. This creates a two-way street. For starters, the students get to say thank you, and then, the donors get to see the impact they are having on the students’ lives.

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A discussion on theatres and programs that offer free or discounted tickets to students.

Free Tickets for Community College Students

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