Cheap Theater Series | Volunteer to See Free Shows

I love theater, but I don’t love the idea that going to the theater has to cost a lot of money. I’m a student/writer on a limited budget, but I’ve learned throughout the years that going to the theater, and other live performances doesn’t have to break the bank. This post is the first of my new Cheap Theater Series where I’ll give you creative ideas on how to see theater, and other live performances at a relatively low cost.

Last August I saw 15 different live shows, which would normally cost several hundred dollars all together in ticket prices, and I only paid $2.50.

How did I manage to see so many shows for such a low price?

I volunteered.

Theater in Edmonton

I’m from Edmonton, a city that many people might overlook visiting, but there is more to Edmonton than meets the eye – like the fact the local theater scene here is pretty fantastic. The biggest theater event in the city is The Edmonton International Fringe Festival. It occurs every August, and it’s the second largest Fringe Festival in the world.

Every year I can I go to the Fringe and I’ll see a few shows. I had wanted to volunteer at The Fringe for a long time, and I got to do that last year. During The Fringe, I worked at the box office selling tickets. The Fringe has their volunteer program organized quite well. Shifts were between 4 and 6 hours long, and volunteers were only required to work three or four shifts during the 10-day festival. The Fringe provided volunteers with food, water and other nonalcoholic drinks during their shifts, and there was always someone around to help new volunteers and answer questions.

Outdoor show at the 2013 Edmonton Fringe Festival.

A crowd at an outdoor performance at The 2013 Edmonton International Fringe Festival.

Free Shows at The Fringe

There are many benefits to volunteering, and for me spending a week at a festival I love, meeting new people, and just being in a general theater environment was awesome. Still I’ll admit a big benefit to volunteering for The Fringe were getting Fringe bucks, which are gift certificates volunteers get after finishing their shift for the day. Fringe bucks could be used to enter raffles with prizes donated by local merchants, or they could be used to buy tickets for any of the paid shows at The Fringe. After The Fringe several of the most popular shows are held over for a few performances, and Fringe bucks were also valid for those shows. In addition to Fringe bucks some shows at The Fringe would set aside a set number of complimentary tickets for volunteers.

If you haven’t already guessed, I was all about using my Fringe bucks to see free shows. I worked seven shifts at The Fringe (I volunteered for extra shifts above the minimum requirement), and I earned $140 in Fringe bucks (this includes the Fringe bucks I got for attending a mandatory training session). I saw 15 different shows during The Fringe and holdovers using my Fringe bucks and comp tickets. I only paid $2.50 for one show, because I didn’t have enough Fringe bucks to cover the full price of the ticket.

Posters for shows at the 2013 Edmonton International Fringe Festival

A set of posters for some of the Fringe Shows. From the posters shown here, I saw Adore Canada (a burlesque show) and Nashville Hurricane (a one man drama). Both shows were fantastic.

Regular Fringe Tickets

If I hadn’t been able to volunteer, tickets for shows at The Edmonton International Fringe Festival are very reasonably priced. Most range between $6 and $15, and aside from a $2.50/ticket fee (to cover the cost of putting on the festival) all ticket proceeds go to the artists and performers. I fully believe in supporting performing arts, and without volunteering I likely would have seen a few shows, but I probably wouldn’t have as many shows as I did volunteering.

Volunteering at the Fringe helped see some shows at a low-cost, I got to meet new people, and I got a tangible experience helping out with a festival that I love. While I don’t live too close to Old Strathcona and Whyte Avenue (where most of The Fringe shows are) the 30-minute drive to go to the festival was worth it for me. Volunteering for The Fringe was a great experience, and if I’m looking forward to volunteering for the 2014 Edmonton International Fringe Festival.

The Princess Theatre in Edmonton is an Art Deco movie theatre, but they always host a few shows during The Fringe. I saw Scratch - a fantastic improv show that always sells out when it's at The Fringe at The Princess.

The Princess Theatre in Edmonton is an Art Deco movie theatre, but they always host a few shows during The Fringe. I saw Scratch – a fantastic improv show that always sells out when it’s at The Fringe at The Princess.


If you’re traveling to see a show or go to an event like The Fringe volunteering may or may not work for you. Make sure to get in contact with someone from the venue or event you are looking to volunteer at to find out if volunteer positions are available. Here are some things you’ll want find out before signing up to volunteer for any show or event.

  • What work will be required?
  • How much time per day/week will you have to commit to volunteering? You will need to decide if the amount of time you’ll be spending as a volunteer will be worth it, particularly if you only have limited time in a destination.
  • What conditions will you be volunteering in? Will you be inside or outside?
  • Will you be working with other people? Will there be a supervisor or someone on site to answer questions and help new volunteers?
  • What are the breaks like? How many breaks do you get per shift? How long is each break?
  • Are food and drinks provided? Do you have to bring your own food and drinks?
  • Is there anything else you need to bring during your shifts? For example volunteers at The Fringe needed to have their volunteer pass on them in order to start their shift, and to purchase tickets with Fringe bucks.
  • What are the perks for volunteering? If you’re hoping to see a free show for volunteering then you should make sure that this is possible before you sign up to volunteer.

With a little bit of planning you could see shows, attend concerts, or attend a number of performance arts related events for free or at a low cost by volunteering.

One last note: Everything has a cost whether that cost is terms of money or time. With volunteering you’re spending your time helping others and helping a cause or an organization, so you need to be sure that this is a cause and commitment you are willing to make. Yes, seeing those free shows at The Fringe was great, but I wanted to volunteer for The Fringe, and I would have done so regardless of the perks. My advice is not to commit yourself to volunteer for anything, no matter what the perks might be, unless it is something you want to do, and unless you are volunteering for an organization or cause you support.

Have you done any volunteering in order to see a free show?


6 Responses to Cheap Theater Series | Volunteer to See Free Shows

  1. Mary @ Green Global Travel February 17, 2014 at 7:15 PM #

    Volunteering really is a great way to see free shows! Thanks for sharing!

    • Alouise February 18, 2014 at 7:59 PM #

      Hi Mary. Thanks for the comment. I always enjoy volunteering and the free shows were a nice bonus.

  2. Abby March 6, 2014 at 10:44 AM #

    Great idea! I’ve always found that there are ways to be involved with the arts without paying high ticket prices… Way to go. Sounds so fun!

    • Alouise March 7, 2014 at 8:38 PM #

      Thanks for the comment Abby. I always love sharing how to get a good deal for seeing a show.

  3. Mary Calculated Traveller June 10, 2014 at 11:52 PM #

    I love the theatre as well, but have a hard time getting friends, family to shell out the big bucks to see anything with me. I think your budget friendly way of seeing shows is a great idea! Thanks for the tip!

    • Alouise June 13, 2014 at 1:52 PM #

      Thanks Mary. Hope you can use some of these tips to help your friends and family see some shows with you.

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