TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre) is a bustling hive of theatre activity.
It offers the community an artistic platform for development and a safe space for artists to create. Sarah Somerville (Executive Director) joined iTICKET’s Sarah’s Cowley to chat about their plans and how the changes in ticketing impacted their business.

Q: Can you briefly recap some of the challenges you've faced recently?

Well, obviously COVID has had the biggest impact on our operations and while we learned how to manage that in a way, there's always something new that will challenge and change the events landscape. (For example) the unexpected anniversary weekend floods, followed by a cyclone and more recent floods. Not only did it have a significant impact on operations, but it also influenced audience behaviour who now seem more hesitant to buy tickets too far in advance. 

One of our key events this year, Night of the Queer,  has always been very well attended. Suddenly these major weather events hit on the night before their final tech dress… They were incredibly stressed, and we had to make some very quick decisions to help them with stranded cast, customers and planning. Our solid relationship with iTICKET, and their responsiveness, was an absolute asset from the start. We decided to merge a whole lot of shows together for a more relaxed run through, leaving the worry of dealing with customers and ticketing in iTICKETs hands.

Q: Do you feel the partnership with iTICKET has had a positive impact on your business?

Yes. Having this kind of relationship was brilliant. It was very much “build your own” with the previous ticket provider, but having an organisation where this is their specialty makes a lot of sense and saves our staff from wasting time trying to figure it out. 

It was also the kind of responsiveness we get from iTICKET; we can now quickly solve problems with the help of someone instead of having to deal with no phone number, or waiting for email responses on ticket queries with a foyer full of people waiting for a show that’s meant to go up in 20 minutes. 

The partnership has just reduced our anxiety, knowing that if we can’t figure it out, we can pick up the phone and someone’s got our back. The staff feel more confident as they don’t fear that the system might glitch leaving them with no one to help. 

Q: How did the change in ticketing affect the working relationships with producers? 

Partnering with iTICKET has given us access to advice and guidance on how to deal with unique challenges. Not only do we have to deal with changing audience attitudes, but also producers or communities we work with. Many are quite new to this industry and they'll have some preconceived ideas or a lack of confidence. This is when constructive discussions about how we approach different ticketing models can prove beneficial to them, which is much easier with iTICKET. 

We also work in the developmental stage with established artists who have planned most of their technical aspects. Their challenges are often quite different, but they want to test their material with audiences and require technical reliability and stability of an experienced ticketing system, which we now also have through iTICKET.  

Q: How did the change in your ticketing system affect decisions around your operations?

Making the change has certainly made life easier for patrons and our staff. In the past, we printed out tickets for people to collect, which placed our box office staff under a lot of stress. 

With the new ticketing system people waltz in with their ticket and we scan them straight into the door. The process is really smooth and we eased back on the number of box office staff who can now focus more on the actual welcoming of patrons. 

Despite some initial resistance from front of house staff, who were used to previous systems and somewhat fearful of new technology, there’s been nothing but positive indicators from everyone. 

Q: So what's next for TAPAC, in terms of development or your organisation’s future focus?

We want to try and be as agile as possible. There’s definitely been a shift around funding models for shows and how far out people will book their shows into the theatre.

We're working hard to ensure that we have models to make working with TAPAC easier and more accessible; actively trying to attract new audiences and bringing people together through programs, education classes or our own productions.

We also want to approach ticketing with agility and discussing innovative options like flexible pricing, adding donations, pay what you can and any new options to find the ‘sweet spot’ for a production’s pricing strategy. This is easier with iTICKET’s guidance and product offering. It is also great that we can benefit from the experience they gained by helping other theatres and a quick discussion with them generally clears up potential uncertainties we might have around approaching unique ticketing situations.  

Q: Great feedback - thank you. And lastly, tell us about your favourite event experience? 

A good event for me is not only about the performance or actual show, but the whole experience in its entirety. When you go to a concert or rugby game, you can expect a throng of people, but I recently went to Ed Sheeran and it was the first time I’ve been to a gig where I walked straight in without having to wait. That arrival experience is so important and that’s why it’s so great for TAPAC to have free parking available. You also don’t have to deal with the big volumes of people finding ubers after a show or paying high parking rates like you would in the CBD. We now also have the ability to quickly scan people in and wonder how and why we stuck with printing tickets for so long.