Sales and marketing, the discipline that results in (it is hoped) purchase of actual tickets by audience members (it does happen, ya know), is an art equal in complexity and importance to the better known aspects of putting on a show like directing and acting.
Marketing is actually MORE important, because it’s harder to get an audience to turn out than it is to create a compelling piece of drama on stage. The real art form, then, is not theatre itself – it’s cultivating and attracting an audience.
The psychology of selling tickets is a big topic, and there’s a lot to it. People like to get a deal, but they also don’t want to miss out on what’s popular. Along that knife edge of desire and fear they tiptoe. If you pay full freight for a ticket only to see a half off sale soon after, you feel like a dolt. But if you hold your bluff too long waiting for a better offer and you’re wrong and the show sells out and everyone else sees it – then you’re really screwed.
Meanwhile, theatres want to fill seats, because an empty room looks HORRIBLE. And even as the relationship between ticket sales and theatre budgets grows more tenuous for smaller theatres, and some of them seemingly abandon ticket sales as a major source of funding, moving more towards grants and philanthropic support for their money, producers still want to get some kind of income from tickets.
In this brutal danse macabre of capitalism, buyer and seller don their poker faces, circle warily, and size each other up. “Tickets selling fast!” the seller whistles. “Better hurry before it sells out!” “A friend said it was half empty last week,” the buyer retorts. “Last time you guys did a show I got tickets for $20 at the last minute.”
Oh the drama!