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Diana and Lynn Husband of Wilsonville have been coming to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for three decades, and like many long-time patrons, they don&

t pay much attention to the rising cost of tickets.

&

We say, &

145;Are the tickets higher?&

We don&

t care,&

Diana Husband said.

&

It&

s our favorite weekend of the year,&

Lynn Husband said.

But Lynn Husband said that while higher ticket prices don&

t affect him and his wife, he worries about the impact on others.

&

I just wish they could produce the plays for less money so that people who are feeling squeezed could come,&

he said.

Over the last several years, OSF has instituted higher weekend prices, raised its middle and upper level ticket prices and reduced the number of cheap seats.

In 2001, the most expensive weekend seat &

excluding box seats &

cost $47.

This season, OSF has designated the front-and-center areas of its theaters as A+ sections. A theater-goer sitting there now will pay $62 for a weekend, mid-season ticket.

Meanwhile, OSF has remained committed to keeping the lowest priced tickets more affordable.

An adult who bought an off-season, mid-week ticket in the C section paid $21 in 2001, and will pay $21.75 this season.

If the price of that 2001 ticket had risen — percent each year with inflation, the price would be $24.35 today.

Youth off-season, mid-week tickets in the C section were $14 each in 2001, and now cost $14.50. An inflation-adjusted ticket from 2001 would cost $16.23 today.

&

In essence, what we&

re doing is working with trade-offs,&

said OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson. &

We know we need additional money. The A+ seats get us the money we need without raising costs in the B and C seats. We&

re able to hold the line on the lower cost seats.&

Nicholson said OSF needs to generate more revenue to keep pace with inflationary salary increases, technological changes and the need for added staff.

Early glimpse

OSF has been selling tickets to members for this year&

s season since November 2005, when it kicked off its annual presale.

Despite the addition of the higher-priced A+ seating, presale ticket sales are up 4.5 percent, according to OSF Marketing Director Mallory Pierce.

The designation has created the perception that A+ seats are the &

best seats of the house,&

and some people have even called to say they were disappointed they couldn&

t get into the premium section for certain performances, Pierce said.

&

Just give me more of it, because people want to buy it,&

she said.

Revenues from the presale increased from $4,314,827 in 2005 to $4,747,062 for the 2006 season, according to OSF Media Relations and Marketing Assistant Eddie Wallace.

He said OSF didn&

t eliminate any B or C section seating to make way for the A+ seating, but only reclassified some A section seating.

Several OSF officials said there has always been greater demand for A section seating than B and C section seating.

The numbers seem to bear those claims out.

For the 2005 season, A sections for all theaters were at 89.2 percent capacity. B sections were at 64.7 percent capacity and C sections were at 72.5 percent capacity, according to Tidings calculations done using figures provided by OSF.

Kelley and Russell Schaar of Redding, Calif. came to Ashland and bought tickets just hours before the start of the play they wanted to see on Friday, Feb. 24, when the 2006 season opened.

The prime seats were sold out, so the couple bought tickets in a lower-priced section.

&

We were pleasantly surprised at the price. But we were a little bummed because we couldn&

t get the seats we wanted. We would have been willing to pay more for better seats,&

Kelley Schaar said.

She said OSF&

s ticket prices are less expensive than those sold by San Francisco theaters.

Nicholson said OSF is comparable to a number of top theater companies throughout the nation.

Price-wise, OSF falls in the middle for ticket prices in comparison to the top theater companies named by Nicholson that are on the West Coast.

San Francisco&

s American Conservatory Theatre charges $76 for a front-and-center weekend ticket, according to a box office employee at that theater.

The Seattle Repertory Theatre charges $46 for its prime seats. But the company has not raised prices in four years and plans to do so in September, according to a box office employee there.

Businesses watching

Several owners and managers of tourist-dependent businesses in Ashland said OSF ticket price increases will not dissuade people from coming to town who have a tradition of vacationing here.

Deedie Runkel, innkeeper for Anne Hathaway&

s Cottage, said she has not heard any complaints about OSF&

s addition of A+ section seating.

&

If anything, there was more evidence of advance enthusiasm than in the past. They have various &

145;gates&

when people can buy. We hear from the high-end customers early,&

she said. &

We&

ve got moderate to heavy early bookings in this early period.&

Ashland&

s Knight&

s Inn Manager Barbara Camarillo said long-time theater fans will still come, but she wonders about the impact of higher ticket prices on more casual visitors.

&

I think they&

ve been pretty high in the past. To go even higher is crazy,&

she said. &

For people who are not into it too much, but would like to see it, it would deter you.&

A number of local business owners refused to comment on OSF&

s ticket prices or did not return phone calls for comment.

Ashland Chamber of Commerce Director of Public Relations Mary Pat Parker said OSF offers a number of deals, especially for locals, that make attending the theater more affordable. She pointed to the Flex Pass as one example.

The Flex Pass, available to Rogue Valley residents, features six tickets for $135 &

or $22.50 per ticket. Parker said she believes OSF officials have considered their audience before creating the higher priced A+ seating sections.

&

They&

re careful about doing their marketing research before they do this,&

she said. &

They&

re doing their homework, and those are selling.&

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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