With the cost of groceries, gasoline and just about everything else squeezing pocketbooks, disposable income for entertainment is shrinking even if the desire to go out isn't.
Luckily, an array of free events as well as discounts that reduce the price of admission to a concert, the theater or special event can be found if you know where to look.
"There are so many opportunities for really wonderful entertainment that is affordable in Buffalo that it's a shame not to take advantage of it," said Bonnie Bosford, a retired math teacher.
Bosford volunteers at Irish Classical Theatre and Theatre of Youth, allowing her to attend a performance of each production at no charge.
She buys a discounted movie pass at the Market Arcade that for $55 offers 10 movies, four popcorns and four sodas. And she has on her calendar plans to attend free events, such as an upcoming appearance by author Ann Patchett at Canisius College, a free play by University at Buffalo actors in conjunction with Buffalo Seminary and the three Chamber Music Society concerts she attends each season.
"Being on a tight budget shouldn't prevent someone from getting out to the theater if they seek out discount possibilities," said Constance McEwen Caldwell, executive director of the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo.
The organization's Web site, www.theatreallianceofbuffalo.com, will soon advertise discounts and promotions.
Here are other ways to find discounts:
* Preview nights, held before the official opening of a play, are discounted and typically held one or two nights. MusicalFare Theatre offered half-price tickets for its preview of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," for instance, while the Kavinoky Theatre charged $10 for its Wednesday and Thursday previews of "Mauritius."
* Theaters often offer "pay what you can" opportunities. The Irish Classical Theatre's is the second Saturday matinee of each run.
* Rush tickets allow theatergoers to get in at the last minute and pay less than the advertised price.
* Discounts for students and younger audiences are offered, running as low as $5.
* Theaters will offer 2-for-1 tickets to patrons on mailing lists for selected shows.
* In addition, early bird subscriptions offer up to 40 percent in savings at most of the area's theaters.
"If someone takes the initiative to inquire at any given theater about discount offers, they will find something," Caldwell said.
She has the best possible news for play-going bargain hunters -- "Free Night of Theater 2008." Anyone wishing to attend one of seven theaters for free from Oct. 16 to 30 can do so by logging on to www.freenightoftheater.com.
At Shea's Performing Arts Center, discounted tickets for Broadway Series shows are offered on a show-by-show basis through print advertisements or by e-mail. Often, shows have $5 off coupons in The Buffalo News for Saturday matinees.
There are also student rush tickets periodically, which can be purchased for as little as $20. Notice is often spread through college advertising.
With Shea's top ticket prices typically more than $50, it's possible to still get in at half that price.C level tickets in the upper balcony this year start at $24.50 individually, or a subscription for all six shows can be purchased for $162, which averages $17 per show.
"The seats are toward the back of the balcony, but in a 3,000-seat theater it's not a bad seat. You can still see what's going on," said Shea's spokeswoman Lisa Grisanti.
In addition, premier floor seats for the six shows can be purchased at the cheaper rate of $339 if used on a weekday. There are discounts for special performances, such as the $10 children's discount in some floor seating for the two Dec. 6 performances of "The Nutcracker," with C seats priced at $29.
Shea's also offers a free Family Film Series on Sundays six times a year. The tickets are available through Wegman's 10 days prior to the scheduled movie date. The series resumed this past Sunday with "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."
The movie tickets are just one of many ticket offerings -- some at a discount -- found at the area's two largest grocery chains, Wegman's and Tops. A list of events can be found at their Web sites (www.wegmans.com and www.topsmarkets.com).
The American Automobile Association also offers a slew of movie, theme park and event discounts with its annual memberships.
Entertainment Books, now on sale for numerous fundraising events, sell for $25 and offer discounts on movie tickets and other entertainment options. Amusement parks, which are winding down but plan Halloween events, often offer discounts on their Web sites, which can involve bringing a canned food item or soda can, depending on the promotion.
Another way to find savings is to join a cultural organization that offers discounts for other events. The Buffalo Zoo membership provides discounted movie tickets at AMC, Dipson and Regal; 10 percent off the purchase of single tickets at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and $4 off admission to Martin's Fantasy Island.
When it comes to music, you can pretty much forget about savings for big shows at HSBC Arena, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center or the casinos. The best opportunity may come by going to the venue early and trying to buy tickets from sellers unloading extra tickets. Chances of that happening are slim, however, since most people selling tickets at an event are scalpers seeking premium prices.
Smaller clubs and halls, such as the Tralf or Asbury Hall at Babe-ville, offer advance tickets at below-door prices, with Asbury Park pre-sale discounts as much as $5.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra provides student and senior discounts, and informs people on its e-mail list about discounts. In addition, the BPO's subscription series packages are lower than the cost of individual tickets for the same events.
>SCORING SPORTS TICKETS
Trying to get your hands on discounted Buffalo Bills or Sabres regular-season tickets is about as easy as tackling punt returner Roscoe Parrish in the open field.
But luckily, there are low-priced tickets to sporting events that offer real value, from the minor league Buffalo Bisons to area colleges and universities, as well as free sporting events for some, less-noticed athletic contests listed on school Web sites.
Bisons tickets last year were under $10 (even less with Family Pack coupons in The News), while Niagara University's Purple Eagles basketball games cost just $10 to watch the men's team, and $7 for the women's games.
The University at Buffalo's Bulls games cost $25, but subscription packages, as well as for other teams, result in significant per game discounts. Also look for occasional discounts such as two tickets for the price of one, which are announced in advertisements. For more detailed information, contact the box office. It's also possible, if you're lucky, to purchase tickets at a discount from sellers outside the gate.
-- Mark Sommer