Theatre is expensive. There’s no way around it. You can usually find tickets on discount sites (Groupon, Goldstar, etc) but those usually come with steeps transaction fees for you AND the theatres. There’s also a delay in the time it takes for the theaters to get the money from those tickets, which can cause cash flow problems for smaller organizations.
So how is a young professional Chicagoan supposed to take advantage of their city’s amazing theatrical offerings? How?
Calm down. Here I’ve curated a list of 17 Chicago theaters that offer special discounts: reduced rate subscriptions, rush tickets, discounts for young people, and more ways to see live theatre on the cheap. This list does not include military, senior, student or group discounts because those are all pretty obvious and easy to find.
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre offers $20 tickets to people under 35. Even better, anyone under 35 can buy two tickets to each production at this lower price and bring a friend of any age! No membership or subscription needed. This is one of the best ticket deals on the list.
American Theatre Company offers discounted subscriptions to people under 35. You can select a 2 or three show membership for just $20 a show. That’s $10 per show cheaper than a normal subscription.
A Red Orchid Theatre offers a discounted subscription plan just for their preview performances at $50 for three shows. Previews are the few performances before opening night. That’s $30 less than a regular subscription. If you can’t make a preview performance, you can exchange it for a ticket during the regular run and pay the difference in price.
Lookingglass Theatre is another big theatre offering discounts for people under 35. Their Mad Hatter’s Club pass lets young patrons see 4 shows for $100 dollars and comes with some other member benefits. It’s less than half the price of four ground floor individual tickets ($220).
Opera tickets can be some of the priciest. Chicago Opera Theatre’s range from $50 to $125 this season (those sumptuous sets and costumes don’t grow on trees, ya’ll). However, their Opera Underground Young Professionals Group is free to join and offers $30/opera tickets for packages of 3-6 performances or $40 tickets bought individually. If going to the opera sounds hella stuffy/intimidating, you should check out their production of Tristan and Isolde at The Music Box just to dip your toe in.
Victory Gardens Theatre has a number of $20 tickets available for each show for people under 30. You can use the code “2030” when purchasing online or call the box office. They’re subject to availability, so reserving early is advised.
Court Theatre offers a ton of options for their subscriptions. They’ve got a full on spreadsheet with options to buy subscriptions and flex passes for 3-5 shows, some priced as low as $32 per performance (normally around $60). Check out their website for the plethora of options.
Goodman Theatre offers their own version of rush tickets at $10 each. Each day of a performance, these tickets become available online at 10am with the code “MEZZTIX.” This only works if the show isn’t sold out before the day of the performance, but is still a great deal. You can also get these tickets by contacting the box office at noon on the day of a performance.
Lyric Opera has a number of options for discount tickets. So many that they’ve got a “Ways to Save” page on their website. Here are the highlights: Through their Encore program you can get $39 balcony and $75 main floor seats to main stage shows when they’re available. You just have to sign up for email notifications. There are also rush tickets available for each performance at 50% off. They tickets open up 2 hours before curtain.
Porchlight Theatre‘s discount plan is a little strange but I’ll give them credit for creativity. At a “random selection of shows” a number of tickets will become available for purchase at the price of a movie ticket ($12.50, so no In The Heights in IMAX 3D). You can check their website daily and these tickets must be purchased in person at the box office. Similarly, their “pay your age” deal is only for randomly selected performances and available only for purchase in person at the box office 1/2 hour before the show.
Stage Left Theatre offers $20 tickets to any patron under 30. You can call the box office or purchase these tickets in person and show ID when you arrive for the performance. Folks under 30 can also get $10 tickets to previews and $18 for Thursday performances.
Steppenwolf Theatre offers a limited number of $20 tickets to each show. They’re available for purchase at 11am on the day of a performance and are limited to 2 per person. Half price rush tickets are also available but only in person at the box office one hour before curtain.
Strawdog Theatre Company offers a pretty great under 30 discount if you’re willing to go in on it with a friend. For $80, you can get 6 passes to any of mainstage performances in a season. That’s over half off regular ticket prices.
Writers Theatre offers $30 tickets to educators (with some proof of ID). Just use the code EDUCATOR online or mention it at the box office. Twenty dollar theater industry tickets are available seven or fewer days before a performance with the code INDUSTRY. Something like a business card, resume, headshot, etc is required. There are a number of other interesting options on their special offer page.
The Neo-Futurist‘s tickets are already pretty reasonable, but their system is pretty fun. You CAN order tickets online for $20 to ensure a seat, but traditionally patrons line up outside the theatre on the night of a performance and roll a die. Your ticket price will be $9 plus whatever you roll, cash only. Don’t worry, if you order online you still have the chance to “roll back” your price by $1-$6 depending on what you roll at the door.
Halcyon Theatre holds a significant number of seats for no-cost admission on a first come, first served basis for each performance. They call it their Radical Hospitality Program. Bear in mind, regular tickets are only $20 and are the best way to ensure a seat.
Oracle Theatre is always free. #PublicAccessTheatre Tickets sometime go VERY fast so keep an eye on them!
There you have it. No more excuses for living in one of the best cities for theatre in the country and never going. If nothing on this list excites you, then definitely follow theaters in your neighborhood on Twitter and Facebook, where they will almost certainly post about two-for-one deals and other one time discounts. If you DO have a favorite company, look ahead at their season and book tickets to previews when tickets will be cheaper.
And remember, when you find yourself clutching your pearls at the full price of a theatre ticket–Chicago theaters aren’t generally run by some fat cat CEO belly laughing and raking piles of money while he smokes a cigar and drinks Johnny blue. They’re mostly non-for-profits scraping by while trying to have a positive impact on the world. Not a bad way to spend some extra cash, if you ask me.