Welcome to the Theatre Dictionary’s conversation about the term papering the house.

On papering the house’s official page, we define the term as “distributing free tickets to early performances of a production to boost audiences and spread word of mouth.” But now we want to know what the term papering the house means to you. You can use the comments section to tell us.

— Have you ever received free tickets to a show?

— If so, how did you get the invite? From a cast member? An email list? Elsewhere?

— Did you ever pay for a show only to realize most of the other audience members were “paper”?

If you’d like to make a video of your own about papering the house, then we’d love to hear from you! Just email us through our contact page. Tell us about yourself and why you want to make a video. We’ll be in touch ASAP and give you details on how to add your video to the Theatre Dictionary!


Mark Blankenship, Theatre Dictionary editor

  • Mark Blankenship

    NOTE: This is Mark Blankenship, the editor of the Theatre Dictionary. The following came to me via email, and I’m reposting it with the author’s permission.


    Hey there. I come from a long line of theatre people and
    both of my parents worked for ticketmaster for a pretty long time too (Dallas
    Area). We used the term papering to describe the general call from an
    executive or higher member (producer, director) to fill the seats. I work
    at a film festival and I do this too and use the same terminology. The concept
    is that someone like…..I don’t know…um…Paul Simon might be coming through
    town. We see that we haven’t actually sold out the house yet and he has
    expressed a specific desire that the first 50 rows be completely sold
    out. That’s when we start papering. If there was a guest star in a
    play that was coming through town we would do the same thing if they asked or
    just to make ourselves look good. Similarly in a film festival situation
    you might have paid money to have someone come and appear for their film.
    You want them to feel welcome and desired. You want them to have a good
    time so they want to come back later. So you paper the house.

    I guess my point is, it’s certainly not only during previews
    and sometimes it’s done to impress a personality at a one-off event and doesn’t
    necessarily need to be tied to word of mouth. — TOMMY