Selling Tickets

Let’s talk about selling tickets. For Graveyard Swing, I used Brown Paper Tickets, which is a pretty standard ticket processor—I’ve used them as a customer plenty of times, buying tickets for other shows. It’s fine, and they seem really committed to supporting indie theatre, and I told myself very early on in planning for Halloween that I would not let myself write software for this, even if I was super displeased with all existing services, becuase that time was better spent building the show.

I think this was the right decision for that production—BPT was fine—but I learned a lot about what I actually want from a ticket processor now and I think, for Bobby’s Birthday and all future shows, I want some custom software. Here’s what I learned:

  • Brown Paper Tickets is designed for more traditional shows with more traditional showtimes. Because I was selling tickets in thirty-minute increments, I ended up having an intimidating number of showtimes in one long dropdown that I couldn’t change. There were few options for customization and unfortunately their site’s design feels rather stale. I’d like a calendar view, because my intuition is that people will want to choose a date and then a time, rather than both at once.

  • Speaking of stale design: BPT’s mobile browsing support leaves a lot to be desired! Many of my visitors were buying their tickets on their phones. I gotta give them a first-class experience.

  • Beyond UI and mobile support, general aesthetic options were also extremely limited, which left the experience of navigating from my marketing site to the ticket site rather jarring. The ticket site’s branding overpowered my own, which can be good for engendering trust, but can also break the immersion.

  • BPT doesn’t offer a way to modify existing reservations without contacting customer service (whom, I should say, were friendly, helpful, and prompt). This is a little more understandable for a traditional show, but like I said, I have a lot of showtimes. I want to be able to move those reservations around, and I want my customers to be able to do that themselves if they desire!

  • Gathering reservation information for redemption was limited. I could generate reports, but they were are limited to individual showtimes. On Graveyard, I ended up writing a script that used the BPT API to fetch names and ticket counts for all showtimes on the current day, so I could email that list to my front-of-house so that Will Call tickets worked smoothly. Unless someone buys a same-day ticket after I send that list. Also, a few folks used mobile tickets, which proved to be an unnecessary complication. Everyone will have to talk to someone when they approach my show anyway; I’d rather have a really solid Will Call experience for everyone.

I really don’t want to make this sound like a takedown of this particular service—it’s just the only one I’ve tried, and others might even be worse for my unconventional needs. If you’re looking to sell tickets to your show, I can’t recommend using my experience as research! This is so super anecdotal.

Anyway, like I said, I’m building something from scratch that will satisfy my needs precisely. It’s actually almost done, too—I’ve got the temporary-hold-to-permanent-reservation thing working (i.e. the little countdown timer while you’re filling out your info); the next step is to add real payment processing, which sounds complicated but it’s something I’ve done so many times before (I’ll be using Stripe online and Square at the door). After that, I’ll spend some time working on some employee-facing screens for ticket redemption and get everything looking right in time for the start of the ad campaign, which will be…February? March? More on that later, when I start thinking about it. Bye!