Springtime means subscription offers sprouting up all over the place. Many performing arts groups depend on subscribers to stay financially stable, so the push begins early each year to coax people to sign up. Brochures and ads are vying for your attention, urging current subscribers to renew or first-timers to take the plunge. Both can count on an assortment of enticements. Those goodies often extend beyond the basic benefits, such as prime seat locations and the ability to retain the same seats year after year; and discounts of anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent on single-ticket prices. Additional perks are common -- reduced parking fees; no charges for exchanging tickets (an option typically denied single-ticket buyers); advance dibs and discounts on seats for special events added during the season. Some subscription packages include coupons that can be used for other deals in the area. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra even has an "easy payment" plan, which can come in handy when springing for, say, a $684 premium front orchestra seat subscription that includes 12 Sunday concerts. At Single Carrot Theatre, an all-inclusive "membership" is being rolled out that will include admission to all shows, the annual gala, rehearsals and other events. The BSO gives its 18,000 subscribers at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (and another 5,000 at the Music Center at Strathmore in Montgomery County) free online access for a year to the catalog of the Naxos recording label -- almost 1 million tracks from nearly 70,000 classical albums, all available for streaming. The normal fee for access: $300. "For years, the industry has been debating whether the subscription model is dying out, but the numbers don't bear that out," said Eileen Andrews, the BSO's vice president of marketing and communications. "Subscribers account for 60 to 70 percent of capacity at our concerts." At Center Stage, where the term "membership" is used in place of subscriptions, the extras include half-price drinks at intermission. To entice the under-35 demographic, Center Stage introduced a "Go Pass" this season. For about the price of a single ticket, the pass provides admission to almost any show that has seats available. Folks who sign up for the Hippodrome Theatre's Broadway series or the opera series at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric get discounts when buying tickets for other events booked in the venue. Although the emphasis is on selling sizable subscription packages four to six months before a season starts, organizations often offer mini-subscriptions at some point during a given season, largely aimed at helping single-ticket buyers graduate to the next level of support. Purchasing a subscription package from any cultural enterprise, according to Jeff Daniel, president of the Hippodrome at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, is "about buying local and investing in Baltimore. We need more people from Baltimore to make an investment in the arts and entertainment organizations here. It couldn't be more important. If you don't invest, those organizations are at risk."
Illustration by David Cowles