Saturday, July 20, 2024
A server at Oberon, a Harvard Square theater and club that contracts out all advance ticket sales to a company with high service fees. (Photo: Brian Conroy)

A server at Oberon, a Harvard Square theater and club that contracts out all advance ticket sales to a company with high service fees. (Photo: Brian Conroy)

You could have bought tickets early for tonight’s Naked Girls Reading (or another event at Oberon) if you feared the show would sell out. If it was about saving money, though, you needn’t have bothered.

Tickets for the literary burlesque event are $20 at the door, but $15 ahead of time through, which is contracted by Oberon, which is part of the nonprofit American Repertory Theater, which is connected to Harvard. Tickets are not sold at Oberon, at 2 Arrow St. in Harvard Square, until an hour before the event, when they become full price.

But the service fee is $3.50, which raises a ticket’s price to $18.50.

Advance buyers don’t save $5; they save $1.50.

I may be in the minority on this, but I think saving 25 percent off the cost of a ticket is pretty good and saving 7.5 percent — the savings with the service fee — borders on insulting.

Put another way, the service fee is 23.3 percent of the total cost of a ticket.

This is better than the 30 percent service fees TicketMaster regularly charges. (TicketMaster is also notorious for charging $17 service fees on free tickets to President Barack Obama’s inaugural.) But it’s monumentally worse than the 2.5 percent charged by services such as Eventbrite, a for-profit company that — uh-oh — just added a former chief executive of TicketMaster to its board of directors.

Less widely known is that some portion of the service fees charged by TicketMaster and some of its competitors are returned to the institutions hiring them. Does pay a portion of its 23.3 percent fee for Naked Girls Reading tickets to Oberon, the ART and Harvard? I don’t know. I was focused on a different question:

Why can’t I stop by the Oberon box office whenever it’s open and buy a ticket for an advance show? Although the box office was open Wednesday, the people there didn’t have tickets to sell me. And if you want to buy a ticket for The Red Light Review on Jan. 29, you can’t buy one Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of that week, even though the theater is open and the box office staffed.

“I’ll look into it,” said Erin Wood, theater operations coordinator for the ART. “I don’t set the policies on our box office or how it functions.”

It was a moderately hopeful ending to a confrontational interview.

“That absolutely is privileged information that I’m not going to share with you,” Wood said, in one of the conversation’s odder moments, when first asked why Oberon doesn’t have a regularly staffed box office. “You don’t work here. You don’t need to know this information.”

Scratch, manager of the Boston Babydolls burlesque troupe and holder of the local Naked Girls Reading franchise, said it wasn’t within his power to decide whether advance tickets are sold at Oberon. “It would be something you’d have to talk to Oberon about,” he said. “It’s something I’ve got absolutely no control over.”

He also said he wasn’t happy about the service fees but had no say in the matter. “If we’re doing a show there, I have to use their box office service. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “When we do our own events or we set up our own ticketing, we use either another ticketing service that has a lower fee or we run everything through PayPal and set the prices to absorb the cost of using PayPal.”

Gretchen Shugart, chief executive of owner TheaterMania, was unavailable for comment Thursday.