Disappointed in the concert or movie? Ask for a refund

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 15, 2007 - 9:31 AM

Who knew you could get a refund if you hate the movie, play or concert so much that you hurl yourself out of the theater? Many entertainment spots allow it.

In the movie theater business, they're known as "anklers" -- customers who walk out before the movie is over. Loren Williams, who owns the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis, recalls about 20 people walking out of "Bamako," about strife in an African village, before it was over. Nobody asked for a refund.

What those theater patrons probably didn't know is that they can ask for a refund. It's difficult to know whether most Minnesotans neglect to ask for a refund because they're, well, Minnesotan, or because they aren't aware that they can, Williams said.

Each theater sets its own policy, but the standard for many theaters is that a refund or credit toward a future movie will be issued if patrons hightail it out of the theater during the first reel (15 to 20 minutes). Refunds aren't common at any theater, but Muller Family Theaters, with eight Twin Cities suburban locations, will do it, said director of operations Dale Haider. At the Lakeville theater, for instance, Haider said, about 10 refunds are issued per year. Reasons range from "not what I expected" to "terrible movie." Haider recalled giving a refund to a couple who had brought their child to the animated feature "Triplets of Belleville," not realizing it was for adults.

Refunds (or more likely, a credit toward a future performance) extend beyond the movies. The Children's Theatre, the Hennepin Theatre Trust (State, Orpheum, Pantages), Guthrie Theater and Jungle and History Theatres all stress that they want to make unhappy customers happy enough to return. Marketing directors say that nudity or smoking onstage often prompt a quick exit by some theatergoers, despite signs in the lobby indicating that a given performance includes such things.

The Jungle Theater, which recently has tackled plays with adult themes such as transexuality and Vietnam, rarely gets requests for refunds at intermission or the end of the play, said Dana Munson, marketing director. Instead, he gets "I hated that show" e-mails the next day. After a new, unfamiliar play, "Bone Dry," the theater got 10 e-mails of complaint, which is a lot, Munson said.

The History Theatre in St. Paul got about 30 complaints last season, many for "Orphan Train," which contained a couple of swearwords, said Chari Hall, audience development director. Some patrons assumed that the play was based on the "orphan train" children's books, but it was based on the actual orphan train of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she said.

At musical events, refunds, or even credit toward another show, are the most unlikely. Kathy O'Connor, public relations manager at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, said the overriding policy is no refunds or exchanges. Refunds or exchanges are honored only in extraordinary cases, such as a death in the family, not because the patron's seat was broken. Still, O'Connor said, if a chair is broken or an audience member is bothersome, the patron should speak up during the show, not afterward.

Once a patron leaves a concert and then complains about it, it's too late, said Sue McLean, a concert promoter for shows at such venues as the Minnesota Zoo, Northrop, O'Shaughnessy and the Fitzgerald. "I feel like Judge Judy sometimes," she said, fielding complaints from patrons wanting refunds because a headliner didn't sing a certain song. The judge's reply for that? NO REFUND! Out of the 26 shows at the zoo this summer, McLean gave out probably a dozen comps or refunds mostly because of severe illness, storms or the I-35 bridge collapse, but not because of an obstructed view or the demeanor of a performer.

Sometimes, a customer just makes a mistake. A performance called "Dream Theater" sounds as if it might be a soothing evening. Last month, an elderly couple at the State Theatre thought so, too. They expected a ballet performance, said Karen Nelson, public relations manager for Hennepin Theatre Trust. Instead they saw (and heard) the beginning, and only the beginning, of a heavy metal show. Nelson gave them a refund.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com.

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