Some good news and bad news for the Kennedy Center this week.
Good news: “Book of Mormon,” the uber-successful Broadway musical from the brains that brought you South Park, is making its D.C. debut at the Kennedy Center, and Washingtonians really, really want tickets.
Bad news: Unlike your average Girl Scout, the Kennedy Center wasn’t prepared for what spokesperson John Dow called “historic” demand. In the minutes before 10 a.m. Wednesday, when members-only tickets went on sale, the number of people trying to log onto the site jumped from 3,000 to 6,000, according to Dow, which overwhelmed both the ticketing module and the Kennedy Center’s main Web site, ultimately crashing the system.
“I was told, at one point, there were a few thousand hits per second,” said Dow. He called the traffic spike “beyond unprecedented.”
The system went down at 10 a.m. and, as of press deadlines Thursday, had not fully recovered. Even once the site was back in action, many patrons who tried to go to kennedy-center.org were left in Internet purgatory, “the waiting room,” where they were told how many customers were ahead of them before they could even access the home page — whether or not they were attempting to buy “Book of Mormon” tickets.
When “Wicked” arrived in 2011, demand for tickets also caused systems to overload. Since “Wicked,” said Dow, the Kennedy Center has increased capacity to both the main Web site and the ticket module. In anticipation of “Book of Mormon,” Kennedy Center representatives set a four-ticket limit per transaction and staggered purchase windows: one for members, a later date for American Express cardholders, and a third for the general public.
But that didn’t go far enough.
Don Berey, a member who tried to buy tickets Wednesday, couldn’t get through until 6:30 a.m. Thursday. He said he had the same problem with “Wicked.”
“Why didn’t you prepare for this?” Berey said. “You have people paying you $60 and more to be a member of the Kennedy Center. If you know you’re going to get slammed, you need to do something about that.”
Dow emphasized that there were “tens of thousands” of tickets on sale and that tickets remain available for the show, which runs from July 9 to Aug. 18. “But with the demand that we’ve had before, we expect long waits to purchase tickets,” he said.
Unfortunately for patrons who were attempting to get to the Kennedy Center site for non-“Book of Mormon”-related activities, Dow said the ticketing and non-ticketing portions of the Web sites are linked to a central database.
That’s not the case in Minneapolis, said Jim Sheeley, president of the Historic Theater Group. “Book of Mormon” played Minneapolis’s Orpheum Theatre in February.
“Everything went smoothly,” Sheeley said. “We’re on Ticketmaster, and they have a lot of capacity.” Orpheum patrons get rerouted to Ticketmaster.com in order to purchase tickets.
At the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where the national tour began, tickets sold out in less than five hours, according to DCPA President Randy Weeks. “We experienced a bit of a slowdown, but we did not crash,” he said.
The DCPA is working on a new system for when the show returns in October. It will route patrons through the Web site more quickly. After landing on a splash page, “they’ll bounce off the Web site and go directly to the ticketing platform,” said Weeks.
“For organizations like us, who do our own in-house ticketing, you have to be prepared for the demand,” he said.
Late Thursday afternoon, the Kennedy Center reached out to members by e-mail to apologize and explain the crash.
“To me as a member, saying that it crashed is not an answer,” said Berey. “The next time tickets to something like this goes on sale, they [should] make sure the system they have has the capacity to serve their members as they expect to be served.”