Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Royal Opera House - Patrons

Being a Patron of the Royal Opera House is meant to bestow upon those members some benefits (according to how much you pay, which varies greatly). Recently the levels of membership have been expanded. Priority booking is perhaps the biggest draw, but this has become more difficult as the seats are divided up between all the various levels, the areas of the House and the requisite number set aside for the public. No details are available as to how this is achieved, and quite possibly the numbers are different for every booking period. I have found that I always have to try to buy tickets during public booking, which has a knock-on effect in terms of ticket availability, just because I can't find what I used to be able to buy during priority booking.

Now, there are a myriad reasons why my preferred seats are no longer available in priority booking, but there is no transparency from the Royal Opera House to help me work it out. I should imagine that quite a few members have just got fed up with the stresses of trying the online booking system, not being able to get the tickets they want, and have cancelled their direct debits.

I tried the website just before posting and I went straight to the front page, but although I clicked on the "support" button, clearly showing no intention to book tickets, I was thrown into the grey waiting room. Pointless for me, but surely infuriating for those in the queue behind me who are trying to pay for tickets !

Now there are changes afoot with one of the other benefits for members - in the most recent issue of the Patrons magazine, a small section of one page was given over to this announcement :

"Royal Ballet Masterclasses are overwhelmingly popular with Friends, and we have for some time been aware that we have not been able to satisfy your demand for tickets through Friends' priority Booking. Starting with the 2009/10 season we will no longer advertise the classes held in the Clore Studio Upstairs through About The House. Instead we will make tickets available by invitation, ensuring that as many Friends and supporters as possible are able to enjoy these special opportunities to see our dancers at work. We will monitor the allocation of tickets to ensure that they are distributed fairly throughout the Season, but if you would like to make sure you are included in the list of Friends to be invited, please contact the Friends office".

This raises a number of issues, not least how they will allocate the invitations fairly. To clarify this point, I asked Susan Fisher, Head of Friends, if she could explain the procedure they will follow. Ms Fisher replied : "We will let all the Friends know how to book for these classes in due course. It will be fairer that it has been until now."

This raises more questions than it answers. Does this mean that no decision has been made about how invitations will be allocated ? Why couldn't Ms Fisher simply answer my question - what is to be gained by asking me to wait for a reply ?

The main reason for asking for clarity is that there will be Patrons who like to offer their support to the company but because they don't live nearby are unlikely ever to accept such an invitation (and let's not forget - these are still paid events, it's not a free invitation). So if invitations are essentially wasted on members who will never attend, how is that fair on the members who would have gone instead ? If you are invited but can't attend, what's to stop you buying the tickets and giving them to someone you know ? Some masterclasses are held in the Linbury - what happens to them ?

The announcement does suggest that you can make sure you are included by contacting the Friends office. My own request was met with a frosty "it was done" from Ms Fisher.

But it isn't compulsory - it isn't saying that if you don't call then you won't be included, which still leaves us with the issue of potentially wasted invitations. Perhaps they will re-offer tickets to those not take up in the first round - but if so, how will these recipients be chosen ?

I'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks about this new development.

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