In early March, Ironweed Productions managed to stage seven performances of playwright Annie Baker’s The Aliens before the coronavirus pandemic forced them to shut down. They still haven’t been paid, and they’re not alone. Brown Paper Tickets, a Seattle-based online ticket seller, owes money to a handful of performing artists organizations and venues in New Mexico.
Brown Paper Tickets bills itself as “the fair-trade ticketing company” and provides “event registration” and ticketing services to small and independent arts organizations, according to its website. Typically, Brown Paper Tickets handles online ticket sales for these groups, charging a small fee and a percentage of each transaction. The check comes 10 days after completed events. It’s a convenient arrangement that allows smaller event organizers to save time and hassle on ticketing.
It’s convenient until the checks stop arriving. According to multiple reports, Brown Paper Tickets has yet to make payments to groups across the United States.
“We’ve been using them for a number of years, and we were about to open a new show when CoViD hit,” says John Flax, founding artistic director of Theater Grottesco. “We had some pre-sales. It wasn’t a lot. They’re usually reasonably quick in sending us payment. We never heard from Brown Paper Tickets.”
Brown Paper Tickets did not return phone calls from Pasatiempo.
Ironweed Artistic Director Scott Harrison says they show $4,435 still outstanding from the ticketing company. “We have not received that money, and it’s an issue that’s really nationwide, we’ve discovered through the course of this.”
According to The Seattle Times, the attorney general of Washington state received at least 33 complaints about Brown Paper Tickets prior to May 1. The attorney general’s office will not comment on ongoing investigations, a spokesperson told Pasatiempo.
Ticket sellers have also turned to Facebook and created a user group called “Stiffed by Brown Paper.”
The group has 350 members.
Brown Paper Tickets posted an open letter on its website on June 9. “While we continue working to address our outstanding payment issues, we are also taking significant measures to better protect event organizers’ payments going forward and ensure those using our platform to ticket current and future events are paid in a timely manner.” The letter is signed by Brown Paper Tickets Founder and President William Scott Jordan.
“The frustrating thing is that you can’t speak with a person, and the information that we’ve gotten back is very generic and unspecific. For us, that’s over a third of our projected earned income,” Harrison says describing the organization’s annual income.
Theater Grottesco is still owed $500, Flax says. “Being out anything these days is difficult because we don’t have much coming in,” he says.
“It’s devastating to small organizations,” Harrison says.
Upstart Crows of Santa Fe held three outdoor Shakespeare performances in May and July to raise funds and defray losses caused by the pandemic. They have yet to be repaid the $1,500 Brown Paper Tickets collected. “For an organization like us, that’s actually pretty huge,” says director Caryl Farkas. “Our expenses don’t go away. We still have to rent a rehearsal space that we can’t use. We still have to pay insurance. So, all the things that go along with having a nonprofit business.”
Despite their outstanding payments, Brown Paper Tickets is still listing events on its website and selling tickets. For instance, the New Mexico Actors Lab, the Schola Cantorum, and the Santa Fe Friends of Traditional Music all have performances currently posted on the site.