Cheap seats: Culture at discount pricesKorean jaws no longer drop at the thought of paying 150,000 won, or $157, for a prime seat at one of Seoul’s major performing centers. Some theatergoers are willing to pay twice that amount when world-renowned opera companies or orchestras come to town.
It’s the orchestra seats that cost only 20,000 won that have people gaping in awe.
Since 2004, The Seoul Arts Center, an opera house and drama theater in southern Seoul, has been selling 2,000 seats for some morning performances at 20,000 won each. Tickets for these seats, for orchestral concerts every second Thursday at 11 a.m., are sold over the Internet. The same seats would sell for at least 60,000 won for weeknight performances,
“We were worried at first that the tickets would not sell,” said Lee Jun-ho, an arts center marketer. “That’s not usually considered the best time to go to an orchestra.”
That was a needless fear, however. The opera house said all tickets are sold out at least two weeks in prior to a concert.
On Oct. 12, the morning of a concert by the Korean Symphony Orchestra, groups of middle-aged women waited in front of the Seoul Arts Center entrance sipping the coffee the theater serves for the early birds.
“The audience ranges from the young to the elderly looking for a bargain,” Mr. Lee said. “But we found out that our program was most popular among Korean mothers who don’t have enough time during the evenings, when they have to drive their children to after-school hagwon classes and prepare dinner for their families.”
Dubbed the “11 o’clock concert,” or “brunch concert” because the opera house sells warm bread and coffee before the concert, the concept has caught on among the theater community seeking to attract a wider audience by offering cheaper tickets . The Ministry of Culture and Tourism even selected the opera house as an example of “benefiting the public culturally.”
“Now it’s impossible to buy these tickets just before curtain time,” Mr. Lee said.
The Sejong Center for Performing Arts, another major opera house and theater located in central Seoul, is preparing what they call a “shocking deal.”
The center could be selling some tickets for as little as 1,000 won from as early as Jan. 8, next year.
“The Seoul Metropolitan Government said they would support us financially and the heads of our opera house want us to start the [1,000 won] project soon,” said Kim A-rim, a staff member at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts. “But this is a shocking deal and we are studying how we should put this into effect.”
So far, the plan is that Sejong will declare every fourth Monday of the month the “1,000 won of Happiness” day and sell each ticket for that price.
“That does not mean the quality of the performance will be low,” Ms. Kim said. “It’s going to be the same performance we stage on normal weeknights, just at a much lower price.”
The LG Arts Center, a venue in Yeoksam-dong for primarily foreign performances, says the cheapest way to enjoy its shows is by purchasing a ticket package at the beginning of the year.
“We do not pass out invitation tickets,” said Gloria Choi, LG Arts Center’s promoter, stating the theater’s policy against giving free tickets to encourage positive reviews. “That’s our way of maintaining quality in our performances.”
By purchasing a season package, which is sold from March of each year, visitors get each ticket at a discount of up to 35 percent, Ms. Choi said.
For the 2007 season, ticket buyers can expect shows by Youssou n’dour, a Senegalese pop band; New Trolls, a progressive rock group from Italy; and British director Matthew Bourne’s version of “Swan Lake,” which casts male dancers as the swans.
The packages include a jumbo pack of eight performances that offer up to a 189,000-won discount. There is also a genre package available where the buyer can choose shows by the genre of the play, dance and music.
Although the price of the tickets at venues in Daehangno, the heart of theater companies in Seoul, is modest compared to that at opera houses, the theaters still felt a need to lower prices more to attract a younger audience.
A movie ticket usually costs about 7,000 won, while admission to a live play costs about 20,000 won.
“Cinemas also have matinees and theater companies cannot compete against them in price,” said Kim Seong-ryang, a promoter of play performances at the Arts Council of Korea.
The answer is Sarang Ticket (www.sati.or.kr), an agency run by the Seoul city government and private corporate funds to sell tickets at lower prices.
Sarang Ticket was started 16 years ago to financially support the relatively poor theater community but the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Arts Council of Korea recently decided to increase that support.
Instead of the previous 5,000 won-discount, ticket-buyers can now get a 7,000 won-discount. The discounts are also now available eight times a month, up from four times a month.
“By signing in as a free member on our Sarang Ticket Web site before the actual ticket purchase online, a 10,000-won ticket can be bought for 3,000 won,” the arts council said when it announced the updated scheme this fall.
The Sarang Ticket system is funded by the Seoul city government to the tune of 1 billion won per year, and KB Bank has contributed an additional 1 billion won annually for the last four years. Financial software developer Core Bank also donated 1 million won this year. The Prime Minister’s Commission on Lotteries also contributes 4 billion won per year. Personal donations are also welcomed.
Regional governments and private corporations are also helping cut the price of theater tickets. The Incheon government is paying more than half the ticket price for Incheon performances by the Staatskapelle Dresden, an orchestra based in Dresden, Germany, which is coming to Seoul and Incheon next month. Ticket prices range from 55,000 won to 143,000 won in Seoul, but in Incheon the ticket prices are fixed at a maximum of 30,000 won. According to the Incheon Multiculture & Arts Center, half the seats (700) have been sold with one month still to go until the performance.
The CJ Cultural Foundation is financially supporting the concert of Korean-American violinist Richard Yongae O’Neil this month, allowing what would have been 80,000-won tickets to be sold at 50,000 won.
There is no discount agency in Seoul similar to New York’s and London’s TKTS booths. Many discounts are available from online sites, though.
“In the past, we let private promoters sell their leftover tickets at a separate booth just before the curtain call, at a discounted price,” said Mr. Lee of the Seoul Arts Center. “That brought complaints from other audience members and we also thought that was not a desirable way [to sell tickets].”
“We expect people to use the Internet more for extra information on discount coupons,” he said.
Mobile communications companies such as KTF and SK occasionally hold Internet “events” passing out free tickets as prizes.
For the less Internet-friendly audience, theater staff advise people check for preview weeks, when tickets are sold for half price at the most.
Kim Su-yeon, a promoter at the Chungmu Arts Center, said theaters usually designate the first week of a new performance as “preview week.” Such performances are limited to long-run shows that are scheduled to last at least a month.
“There is a very enthusiastic crowd that buys tickets as soon as we announce a new performance will be staged,” Ms. Kim said.
Tickets for the Korean musical “Dalgona,” scheduled for to open in the theater at the end of November, will be sold at a 20-percent discount during the preview week.
“It’s smart to check once in a while at your favorite theaters for the opening schedule,” she said.
Sarang Ticket offers a 7,000-won discount on plays, concerts, musicals, dance and traditional art performances held mainly in the Daehangno area.
How to use Sarang Ticket
1. Become a SATi member for free by registering online at www.sati.or.kr, or visit the Sarang Ticket booth in the lobby of the ArKo Arts Theater near Marronnier Park in Daehangno.
2. Reservations made online or at the booth automatically have the discount applied. Eight tickets can be purchased by each member every month.
3. There is no English-language service online and booth attendants may not speak English either.
Seoul Arts Center membership
Annual membership is offered by the Seoul Arts Center. Call (02) 580-1133, or visit the second floor of the Opera House at the Seoul Arts Center.
1. Blue membership: An annual fee of 40,000 won entitles members to a 5- to 15-percent discount, the monthly magazine “Seoul Arts Center” delivered to their homes, 5 percent off the center’s art and music classes and two free tickets to an annual orchestral concert.
2. Gold Membership: An annual fee of 100,000 won entitles members to a 5- to 20-percent discount, 12 coupons for free parking in the center’s parking lot, 12 additional discount coupons for in-house programs and four free tickets to an annual orchestral concert.
What’s on in Seoul for the rest of 2006
Seoul Forest’s Outdoor Environment Sculpture Exhibition
Venue: Seoul Forest near Ttukseom subway station, line No. 2
Dates: Running through Dec. 31, 2006
Seoul International Media Art Biennale
Venue: The Seoul Museum of Art near City Hall
Dates: Running through Dec. 10, 2006
Gangdong (Eastern Seoul) Prehistoric Culture Festival
Venue: The Amsa Prehistoric Residential Site near Amsa subway station, line No. 8
Dates: This weekend
Performance: Re-enactment of a police patrol from the Joseon dynasty, in Insadong
Venue: The main hall of the Jongno district center, near Dongmyo subway station, line No. 6
Dates: Every Sunday at 4 p.m.
Gangdong Thursday Arts Performance
Venue: The main hall of the Gangdong district center
Dates: The first Thursday of every month
Grand Festival of General Nami (parade)
Venue: The ancestral shrine of General Nami in Yongsan
Dates: Nov. 1 to Nov. 30
Shanghai Art Circus
Venue: The fencing gym inside Olympic Park
Date: Until Oct. 22.
Original cost: 33,000 - 77,000 won
Discount: 15 percent discount for “joy OL-park” members
FYI: Beome a “joy OL-park” member for free by subscribing at the Olympic Park Web site http://www.sosfo.or.kr/.
Symptom of Adolescence
Venue: The Rodin Gallery near City Hall
Date: Until Nov. 5
Original cost: 2,000 - 3,000 won
Discount: Group discount available for reservations of more than 20 people.
Entrance is free for members of the Children’s Museum, Leeum members and subscribers to Monthly Art.
Venue: Yonkang Hall
Date: Until Nov. 11
Original cost: 40,000 - 50,000 won
Discount: 10-percent discount for Hyundai Department Store credit card holders.
Chondong Theater’s Traditional Arts Performance
Venue: The Chondong Theater near City Hall
Date: Until Dec. 31
Original cost: 20,000 - 30,000 won
Discount: For high school students and younger, tickets are 10,000 won. For disabled ID cardholders, a 50-percent discount is available.
The Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg
Venue: The Seoul Arts Center
Date: Nov. 7 and 8
Original cost: 40,000 -120,000 won
Discount: 15-percent discount for Seoul Arts Center’s gold members; 10-percent discount for the center’s blue members.
FYI: Become a blue or gold member by being a paid subscriber to the Web site of the Seoul Arts Center.
All members are invited to a free orchestral concert once a year.