Recently, the Joyce Theater in New York introduced “Pay What You Decide,” a ticket-sales initiative that allows patrons to reserve a seat for just $1 and then pay whatever they choose after already viewing a full dance performance.

In this version of “Pass the hat,” new and returning theater guests are given an opportunity to view more performances than they otherwise would, thereby supporting the theater arts and local dance companies                                            even more so down the line.

Executive Director Linda Shelton states that convincing audiences to see new contemporary dance artists is a struggle, as even regulars tend to revisit performers that they know, rather than risk spending money on artists that they don’t.

To encourage more risk taking and overall support of a wider variety/range of programing, Joyce Theater management designed this upended ticket model after learning of similar approaches in a couple of U.K. theaters.

The Howard Gilman Foundation, a New York based organization that prioritizes free and low cost arts education liked the idea. Lara Aden Packer, the foundation’s executive director admits to have never hearing of the idea, but liking it enough that her foundation provided a grant to cover three “Pay-What-You-Decide” matinee shows at the Joyce. The foundation is also funding a program known as “Joyce Pass,”, a program allowing arts professionals to pay just $10 to attend and support shows that wold normally cost $30 and up.


Just this past Saturday, British troupe Wayne McGregor, the first of three sponsored “Pay-What-You-Decide” shows, received a standing ovation by the sold out 472 seat crowd. Known for their aggressive style, guests lined up early to see this famed European group. Their choreographer Wayne McGregor’s impressive resume includes works performed by the Alvin Ailey Theater, and American Ballet Theater this summer. He is the resident choreographer for the London Royal Ballet, and has performed acclaimed research on how the body moves.


Upon exiting the theater guests could pay any amount they chose in cash, by credit card, or have the added luxury of waiting an additional 24 hours to make a payment online. Even the Metropolitan’s Museum of Art’s Pay as you wish policy requires the select payment amount be made prior to entering the museum as opposed to after viewing like this newer program.



Directors and sponsors are finding that this system is successfully facilitating support and traffic for shows that otherwise might not garner as much interest or initial sales. Of the 226 pairs of tickets sold, half of the buyers weren’t previously in the Joyce’s email system, indicating that they were new buyers taking a chance on an unfamiliar production. Ms. Shelton noted that a typical show can bring in up to 30% new buyers and that it’s translating into long term success when viewers pay minimal amounts like $5 for one show, but then also come see other shows this season that they otherwise may not have viewed, or even known about. This ground breaking, successful model will surely be re-produced in theaters all around, making cherished art available to even larger audiences.