The best of theater in the worst of times Center Stage plan lures bargain-hunters

SHAKESPEARE for a dime, Moliere for a dollar, Ibsen for $5. One Baltimore theater's box office lets you have your ticket as you like it if you buy on "Pay What You Can" day.

A chance to see professional live theater at better-than-bargain-basement prices is the goal of the pay-what-you-can program at Center Stage. For those who cannot afford regular ticket prices or just want to get in on a good, money-saving deal, pay what you can is a godsend.


That seemed to be the feeling of the men and women standing in the box-office line recently to purchase tickets for this Thursday's and Sunday's performances of Athol Fugard's "My Children! My Africa!" Ticket prices normally range from $10 to $25.

Waiting patiently for her turn was Katy Katz Woodworth. She bought four tickets at $2 each for some of her clients connected with People Encouraging People, a private, non-profit agency.


"The facility houses mentally ill adults who are suffering from schizophrenia, severe depression and other mental ailments," she said. "These are people who incurred their sickness late in life. They have been in college and have led different lives before.

"They've done the arts scene. They can't afford the arts now. This gives them the chance. Theater is good therapy."

Since the project's inception in December 1988, more than 460 people have taken advantage of pay-what-you-can days, said Betsy Kunzelman, spokeswoman for Center Stage. The plan permits 50 of the specially priced tickets to be released for two performances of each Head Theater production and 100 tickets for two performances of each Pearlstone Theater presentation. On designated days at the box office, patrons pay what they think is reasonable according to their circumstances.

The least anyone ever paid for a ticket was 10 cents, according to Kunzelman. The most was $10 for one ticket.

On the recent sale day, Elaine Lacey, a Towson resident employed by the Social Security Administration, said heavy medical bills were the reason she has taken advantage of the money-saving opportunity for the last two seasons.

"My health insurance did not cover all the costs," she said. "I used to be a subscriber, but this is the only way I can see the shows now," she said.

Lacey purchased one ticket for $3.

Constance Jones and her teen-age daughter, Naomi, who attends Herring Run Middle School, purchased two tickets for $2.


"This is our first time," said Jones. "My daughter is very much interested in theater."

Amini Courts of East Baltimore, a theater and speech teacher at Coppin State College, was there to buy tickets on the group sales plan for 83 students. But she also paid $5 apiece for four pay-what-you-can tickets.

"These are for my friends and colleagues who don't ordinarily go to the shows," she said. "It's to give them a taste of the theater."

"This is the second season for me," said Dianne Graham of Fells Point, a radiology technician at Harbor Hospital who is also a singer with the BSO choral group. She plunked down $5 for four tickets.

"I think artists should have discounts," she said. "In this recession we need to take advantage of wonderful programs like this. I have paid $10 or $12 other days. In times like this we all need an outlet."

Skip Ford lives in Howard County; he works in the corrections field. He doled out $20 for four tickets. "This is my third time . . . a great deal!" he said.


By the end of the day, all 200 of the pay-what-you-can tickets had been sold for "My Children! My Africa!" which previews Thursday in the Pearlstone Theater. The theater's total take for the Fugard pay-what-you-can tickets was $346.26, Kunzelman said.

The average ticket price paid: $1.73.