Claim your empty seat

By Sean Willett

It sounds like a great evening — going to a show, sitting down with your friends and enjoying the best theatre, music or dance that Calgary has to offer. There’s only one snag — the cost. With the hefty price of tuition and ever-encroaching debt, most students struggle to merely afford their education, much less be patrons of the arts. The University of Calgary’s Claim Your Seat program is here to remove this obstacle by offering students free tickets to all on-campus fine arts shows.

 While the program was initially only available for use by fine arts students, Claim Your Seat expanded in 2009 to become available to all who attend the U of C. Funded by the Students’ Union Quality Money program, it allows free access to drama, dance, music and art events on campus for anyone with a student ID. This sounds like a dream come true for fans of the arts, and anyone who’s looking for a night of inexpensive fun. Yet the program remains woefully under-used.

 Despite the opportunity Claim Your Seat presents, a surprisingly low number of students have used it to their advantage. Michelle Varem, a drama student at the U of C and the communications assistant for the Faculty of Arts, blames the lack of attention it has been given. “One of the problems is that people don’t really know that this program is out there,” she explains.

 A recent publicity campaign including posters and NUTV ads has helped to increase the program’s visibility, but actually catching the attention of busy students is another matter. “It’s really hard, especially when you’re walking through MacHall,” admits Varem. “You’re barraged by posters advertising everything under the sun.”

 Janelle Price, communications manager for the Faculty of Arts, suggests that another problem may be the lack of information that has been made available to students. “What we found is that students recognize the name, but don’t quite know what it means,” Price explains, “so that’s why we developed the Claim Your Seat website.”

 The website, which is new for this year, contains information explaining the program and its purpose, as well as details on upcoming performances on the U of C campus. Price hopes that this website will help make it easier for students to lean about what Claim Your Seat offers. “Having a website gives a place for you to go and find out what this [program] really means.”

 It is easy to see how free seats to on-campus fine arts events would benefit students, but potential audience members aren’t the only ones this program aims to help. For fine arts students presenting their projects, it is important to have people in the seats. “It’s great to have an audience because it gives the students on stage an opportunity to continue their research,” explains Price. “In presenting their works, they’re getting a chance to receive feedback from the audience.”

 While students put on most of the shows made available by Claim Your Seat, Varem assures that they’re not all associated with classes. “There are a lot of student performances, but there are also a lot of concerts where we have other people come in.” She points to the Music Department’s upcoming Histoire du Tango performance on February 12 as an example.

 Those who want to take advantage of the Claim Your Seat program will have plenty of opportunities in the coming months. The annual Happening Music Festival is currently running until January 28, and the next theatre production, Euripedes’ Trojan Women, will open on February 14. To claim your free ticket, all you have to do is present your student ID to the box office at the theatre on the night of the show. Since ticket pre-orders are unavailable, Price advises that students arrive early to guarantee available seats.  

 It’s a shame that more people aren’t seizing their chance to see these amazing performances for free. “It’s a really great initiative that’s offered to the students here,” says Varem, “and it’s a great way to engage with the university community outside of classes.”

 So the next time you want to go out, consider skipping the bar and hitting the theatre instead. Not only will you get to witness an enriching cultural experience, but you will also be supporting your fellow students and their work — and thanks to the Claim Your Seat Program, it will be absolutely free.

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