Small Change is a series of stories that show how consumers can save money by making minor or incremental changes to their lifestyle.
Barbara Fingerote recently became an honorary member of Canadian Actors Equity in recognition of her decades of volunteer work in Toronto's theatres.
The self-described "short lady with glasses and a funky cane" has been ushering, tearing tickets, giving directions to washrooms and occasionally working concessions since 1990.
But since retiring from her profession as a library scientist in 2013, she has increased her volunteer hours considerably, working an average three-hour shift up to four or five times a week.
Ms. Fingerote volunteers because she wants to give back. But she also does it because it allows her to see theatre on the cheap. She's among arts aficionados who have found ways to indulge their passions without breaking their budgets.
"It's definitely a way to see something without spending money," says Ms. Fingerote, a native of Winnipeg who started her theatre-going habit after moving to Toronto in 1973.
"You spend your time and that's valuable especially to small, non-profit arts organizations that can't afford to hire people to do the things volunteers do."
Her first job as a volunteer usher was at Theatre Plus, the now-defunct Toronto company that performed in the 500-seat Town Hall of the St. Lawrence Centre. When it closed its doors in 1993, Ms. Fingerote moved on and today lends her time to Theatre Passe Muraille, Tarragon, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, the Theatre Centre, SummerWorks, the Fringe Festival, Luminato and more.
She watches plays as she's volunteering and occasionally gets tickets in exchange for her time. "Front Row Barbara," as she's known in Toronto's arts community, sees so much theatre she's better than a critic in recommending what to see.
"A couple of nights ago I saw The Space Between when volunteering at the Daniels Spectrum's Aki Studio, about a young man from South Africa coming of age during the apartheid era, and I was so moved by it. It's a small show but I found myself really moved by it. Try to go if you can."
Staying connected to the arts when money is tight takes some planning and commitment.
Ms. Fingerote, 67, says there are many retirees like her who satisfy a hunger for the performing arts by bartering their time for tickets. "I know lots of volunteers. We're lucky to see so much. We're fortunate because Toronto has so much to offer."
Ms. Fingerote will even buy tickets to performances on her nights off, usually purchasing them through sites offering discounted access to shows. Her favourite is Brown Paper Tickets, a fair-trade ticketing company that donates at least 5 per cent of its profit to charities in the community.
"I've always been open to the possibilities of what theatre brings, and my learning is growing because I see so much," Ms. Fingerote says.
"Theatre opens me up to the possibilities of human nature. It's a really good way for a person to connect, communicate, feel, think and question."
Like Ms. Fingerote, Christin Farrell is a committed theatre goer who also looks to feed her passion with a limited budget.
But unlike Ms. Fingerote, the 33-year old Torontonian, who works in medical imaging, does not have the time to volunteer.
Her solution to seeing theatre on the cheap is buying into a subscription series. A subscription series amounts to buying plays in bulk and they offer the best deals, Ms. Farrell says.
"I've purchased subscriptions at Mirvish and at Canadian Stage," she continues.
"They carry discounts on parking around the theatre and restaurants both before and after a show, allowing you to save more money on a night out."
Young theatre goers like Ms. Farrell can also take advantage of discounted tickets programs targeted at the under-30 crowd.
At The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ont., theatre patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 can get tickets for as little as $15. The Canadian Opera Company offers a similar program. Its Opera Under 30 tickets cost $22 compared to the $268 typically charged for a grand ring seat.
The National Ballet of Canada's DanceBreak program also offers discounted tickets to patrons between the ages of 16 and 29, but tickets are subject to availability and can be purchased only on the day of a performance. Cost is not predetermined.
Canadian Stage's C-Stage program offers $15 tickets for audiences under 30 while the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has a program called SoundCheck offering discounts for audiences in the 15-to-35 age range. Tickets offered by the TSO under this program are just $16.
So yes, it's true what they say – youth has its benefits. But the rest of the theatre-going public need not despair.
Most arts organizations offer discounts to adults. You just have to know where to find the deals.
Vancouver's Rio Theatre, a multimedia venue for first-run indie films and live entertainment, sells $6 tickets as part of its Cheap Date Mondays and Tuesdays program. Friday Night Late Movies cost $8 at the door and $6 if patrons come in costume.
The East Vancouver cinema also has a $10 lifetime membership allowing for $2 to be sliced off every adult ticket purchase, plus popcorn and soft drink refills.
In Ottawa, the National Arts Centre entitles students of any age (with proof of status) 50 per cent off the regular box-office ticket price for individual tickets and subscription series purchased for any show. Students between the ages of 13 and 29 can register for free to purchase $15 last-minute tickets to all NAC shows as well. Senior's discounts are also available to those 65 and older.
In Montreal, La Vitrine, Cultural Hub, located at the heart of the city's Quartier des spectacles, has a central box office where same-day tickets to most attractions are offered at a reduced price. Halifax's Neptune Theatre routinely sets aside $20 seats for every night of each show. It also offers same-day tickets at 50 per cent off.
Ashley Ballantyne, director of communications for Toronto's annual Luminato Festival, says theatre company e-newsletters typically offer information on performances with reduced ticket prices.
"E-newsletters are usually delivered to your inbox or through social media and they will inform you about ticket offers, so that's a good way to get information, and there's usually no charge to use the service," Ms. Ballantyne says.
Luminato's e-newsletter is called the Insider and it provides information about shows while offering first dibs on seats. Massey Hall, Roy Thomson Hall and Harbourfront Centre all offer something similar.
"Signing up to receive insider information from the organizations you are most interested in hearing from lets you hear about ticket offers and discounts first," Ms. Ballantyne says.
Membership has privileges also at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum, both of which offer major deals for patrons buying into year-long membership programs.
Perks include free access to the galleries, first entry to new exhibits, and special members-only nights. "If you visit AGO twice in a year," Ms. Ballantyne says, "you've more than made up for the cost of membership."