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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Computer Age Dawns at Theater Box Offices

On any given night, approximately 24,000 Muscovites attend the city's 50 or so theaters. For many people, just getting that ticket is a frustrating and time-consuming process.

But on Tuesday, an alternative to the old and clunky ticket-selling system made a quiet debut in the Romen Theater on Leningradsky Prospekt as the venue's first computer-generated ticket was sold. It marked a big step in launching a revolutionary new system in Moscow which will make theater tickets available through an electronic system with outlets in not only the venues' box offices, but also metro stations, train stations, hotels, tourist agencies, and even via the Internet.

It all began in the fall of 1995, when Alexander Yeremeyev received a telephone call from the Union of Moscow Theater Directors, which wanted a major overhaul of the way tickets were sold.

"They were looking for a number of items," said Yeremeyev, 45, a computer consultant and former theater director. "They wanted to use new technology, develop a means to collect statistical information more easily and quickly, and make tickets more readily available to potential audience members."

The current Soviet-era system often requires theatergoers to traipse from box offices to ticket kiosks to stands in metro stations in search of tickets. Distribution of the printed tickets to outlets citywide is often haphazard and the theaters themselves sometimes mysteriously keep large numbers in reserve. All this means that the public is frequently thrust into the arms of often unsavory ticket scalpers.

Yeremeyev's mandate from the theater directors, of course, required money, something Moscow's theaters have little of. It took a $200,000 commitment from BIN Joint-Stock Bank in February 1996 to finance the initial phase that will be completed by the end of the year and include 35 theaters.

"Investment in Moscow's theaters, a large portion of which are the pride of Russian culture, is not only very respectable, but also, if done using modern technology, profitable," said Igor Saakian, vice president of BIN, in an interview from London.

BINART, the entity created by Yeremeyev and BIN Bank for the ticket project, employed Alexei Gugichev to devise the backbone of the entire system -- a computer program that will link all of the theaters together. On Tuesday, the software hit the hardware when Romen Theater's first new tickets were sold by cashier Ludmila Ostakova.

"We've just started the process, but so far I'm satisfied," said Ostakova, speaking from behind her big, sleek IBM-compatible machine.

Natalya Voronenko, systems administrator for BINART, whose primary job at the moment is training was there Tuesday to make sure all went smoothly. Everyone at the Romen Theater, from administrator to cashier, has learned how to use the system. Marina Kuts, chief administrator at the theater known for its gypsy productions, had glowing praise for the new system, saying the computer-generated tickets will greatly cut down on paper and paperwork.

The Operetta Theater, set to go on line next week, is switching to the new system in the middle of its season, unlike the Romen, which had been closed for renovation. Despite the added difficulties at the Operetta, chief administrator Viktoria Kuzima is just as happy with the system as her Romen counterpart.

Cashier Ludmilla Seledtsova is a bit more dubious.

"The administration really wants this, and of course I'll give it a try. But personally, I think the system that we have now works just fine," said Seledtsova, adding that she was keeping an open mind. "We get very large crowds, especially in the evenings, and I am afraid that putting all the information into the computer and waiting for it to print a ticket will take too long."

She is also worried about physical space and comfort. "Just look. This is a very small office. Where is all of this equipment going to fit? And the lighting in here is terrible. It will be very hard on our eyes."

In early February, the Operetta and the Romen will link electronically and will be able to sell each others' tickets, creating the first part of a network that BINART officials hope will bring Moscow up to par with Western cities. However, Saakian noted that the only similarity between the BINART system and those in other countries -- for example, Ticket Master and TicketTron -- is that ticket are sold electronically. Elsewhere, theaters turn over the sales of all tickets to the ticket-selling firm, which then adds a surcharge.

In Moscow, the theaters themselves will be part of the system. Each kassa, or cashier, receives all necessary equipment for free, and, in turn, gives BINART 15 to 20 percent of ticket revenue generated by the system. Yeremeyev said that as the system attracts more and more theaters, this figure will drop to 10 percent. The current goal is to have 20 theaters on-line by June 1, 1997, and 35 theaters by January 1, 1998.

Another unique feature is BINART's cautious implementation plan.

Theaters will be added one by one to slowly test the system and fix any bugs. At first, theaters will make available to the system only the number of seats usually sold through the theater's own kassa, usually between 15 and 25 percent. The remaining tickets will be distributed to outside dealers, just as has been done for years. As the computer-based system attracts more customers, the percentage of seats sold in this manner will slowly be increased.

Yeremeyev and company are busy recruiting more and more theaters. Next in line is the youth theater RAMT, the director of which, Sergei Remizov, commented, "With this system, customers will have more opportunities to see what kinds of things we offer, and hopefully this will increase our audience."

At least one theatergoer was ecstatic at the prospect of a modernization of the current cumbersome process.

"That is just wonderful!" said Manon de Courten, 27, a Swiss graduate student living in Moscow.

De Courten, who said she attends a theater at least once a week, described her current woes. "Not only do I have to go from theater to theater, but often, I will show up, and the kassa will be closed."