Best Deal in Town: Their Ticket Service Helps Pack the House in Theaters Across the City

Founder and CEO of Theater Extras, Jed Canaan, who runs the business with his wife Bronna, explains the perks of his seat-filling company. For a processing fee that is usually only $5, their service offers the best deal in town for shows that can range from Tony Award winning Broadway plays to avant-garde shows in tiny theaters.

| 22 Jan 2024 | 10:59

Queens native Jed Canaan was sitting with his father at dinner one night, when they brainstormed how to efficiently offer complimentary and discounted tickets to guests when venues were looking to fill seats. “There was another company or two at the time doing it, but they were doing it where you would call a phone number and they would have a recording,” Canaan explained.

From there, the website was born in 2003. Members pay $99 per year for two tickets or $175 for four tickets to potentially see any show they want that is part of the program. Tickets range from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows to sporting events and concerts to comedy shows and lectures.

Canaan, who previously had worked for his father’s public relations firm, took a grassroots approach to starting the company, literally going from door to door in search of willing participants, introducing himself to theater managers and giving them chocolate and his business card. To find members, he handed out promotional cards which said, “For the price of a Broadway ticket, enjoy a year of complimentary theater” at Central Park during events like Shakespeare in the Park and Philharmonic Concerts in the Park and on the street corner by Shubert Alley.

Now, the company, which he runs with his wife from their home in Armonk, has 8,000 members in New York and about 2,000 in Los Angeles. “People have said, ‘Why don’t you expand to Chicago or Miami?’ he explained. “I’ve given it some thought, I’m just not sure yet.”

Explain the concept behind Theater Extras.

Theater Extras is an audience development papering service. What that means basically to the layman is we help theaters and venues across the tri-state fill seats when their shows are undersold or they need the benefits of a full house for a variety of reasons, cast motivation, awards season, critic in the house. So they call on us to fill those seats when shows are a little slow on ticket sales.

Tell us how the idea came about.

I was having dinner with my father back in 2002. My dad was a huge influence for me growing up as far as getting in love with and involved with the arts. I went to a lot of theater, ballet, opera, classical music. He took me out a lot; he thought it was a very important part of my youth, especially when my mom passed away, he wanted us to be very cultured. So we were talking about this back in ’02. He said there was another company or two at the time doing it, but they were not doing it efficiently. So we created a website, which has since been re-upgraded a few times given technology changes. But we made it so that it’s 100 percent online, so everything is done much more efficiently. You order a ticket online, the theaters get a list of attendees, and everything is done through the website.

Who did you launch the website with?

I launched it myself. I’m going to give my dad, God rest his soul, credit for inspiring me back in ’02. But I launched this myself in 2003. The first couple of months, we had family members and close friends as members and we gave them all free memberships. It was very cool getting that first Broadway show, maybe two months in. Of course, at the time, we only had about 100 members, so we couldn’t fill that many seats. But now, we’re up to about 8,000 in New York and about 2,000 in Los Angeles.

How did you start reaching out to venues?

It was a tremendous amount of work back in ’03, ’04. I remember getting the theatrical index, which is a very important publication that deals with theater, Broadway and Off-Broadway. So I would learn who the general managers were, who the company managers were. I would walk from office to office over many weeks, introducing myself, handing them a box of chocolates with my business card, just saying, “Hey, I’m new in the business. I hope you’ll consider using us down the road.” So the first year was a real grind, but it really started to fly in ’05, ’06.

How did you get more subscribers?

In the early years, I had some 3x3 promotional cards printed which said, “For the price of a Broadway ticket, enjoy a year of complimentary theater.” And I would go to Shakespeare in the Park and hand out the cards, the Philharmonic Concerts in the Park, as people left the Great Lawn. I would go to a street corner by Shubert Alley and if people walked by, I would hand out these cards. And then it just slowly built to the point now where, thankfully, the last 10 years, it’s really just taken off by word of mouth.

Do the venues reach out to you on a show-to-show basis?

I’ve been doing this now since 2003, so they know they could call on us as a reliable source. Our members are discreet, they’re interviewed online by email, they are responsible, they understand their roles. So if they’re going to order a free ticket on our site and they’re going to show up at a venue, they need to be discreet, stay for the whole show and offer feedback via their social media platforms once the show has ended. So most company managers will reach out to us if needed. Of course, we check in every now and then just to be proactive on our end.

Who helps you with the company now?

It’s me and my wife. We do it together and it’s been great since she joined me on this venture about 10 years ago. We work from home in Armonk. It’s basically a computer and a phone.

Explain the “Decorum and Common Sense” part of your website.

I put that up about six months ago. You know, I would think it’s common sense, but unfortunately, we’re living in a time where not everyone follows rules and regulations. They have their own prerogatives, they want to make a statement, they want to be different. We’ve had a couple of occurrences over the years, to be very honest, where we’ve had people dress inappropriately or complain about a seat location or be kind of a nuisance opening up their candy loudly in the theater. And luckily, I’ve tracked down these people, it’s not often, but it’s now and then, and I do cancel them out, I revoke their membership. We have very strict rules. If you don’t follow the rules, you’re out.

Tell us about your career path before you started Theater Extras.

Before I started this, I was a partner with my father and my wife in a small public relations agency in this city called Canaan PR. My dad started that in ’77 and I joined it in ’89 and my wife joined it in ’94. And we had the PR firm for a while and then 9/11 happened. We had some clients at the World Trade Center, including the observatories at the World Trade Center, and other businesses that were in there. So our PR business really took a major hit, like everyone else. So we were at a point where business was slow, we weren’t sure what to do. That’s when my dad and I came up with this idea over dinner in 2002, and then the rest is history.

How did you fare during COVID?

During COVID, obviously, theaters shut down and it was crazy. We suspended all memberships; there were no fees taken out. All memberships were frozen. So if you had four months remaining on your plan at the time, when we restarted 18 months later, you still had four months on your plan. So there was no income coming in. We survived basically on savings and I started a car service where, for over a year and a half, my wife and I did about 500 drives between the two of us from Westchester to all the New York airports just to make ends meets. Honestly, it was more than financial, it was more about peace of mind, because you could lose your mind just siting home doing nothing.

What are your future plans?

To keep growing the business. We’re at a point in New York where I think we’re almost fully saturated with members. We’re taking members on, but I think we’re going to get to a point soon where we may have to stop because sometimes, the truth is, everyone wants to see that big Broadway show that we get, but there’s a limited supply of tickets. So in an effort to be fair to our entire membership base, I may slow things down in New York down the road. L.A., we’re still looking for more members, there’s always room there to grow.

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