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At a time when the price of theater tickets is soaring beyond the reach of many, Trinity Repertory Theater will try a one-night experiment Tuesday of letting patrons pay what they will.

"The objective is is to give everyone an opportunity to come to the theater," said E. Timothy Langan, managing director of the theater company.The normal ticket price for the preview performance of Maxim Gorky's "Summerfolk" - a story Langan described as one about the Russian Empire's version of yuppies before the 1917 revolution - is $24. Based on similar experiments in Baltimore and San Diego, Langan said he expected people would be willing to pay $3 to $4.

"But that's OK," he said. "The whole purpose of this is for someone to be comfortable in coming to the theater."

Patrons can pay as little as they want - the only rule is no freebies, he said. But Langan wouldn't mind if someone decided the theater really was worth more than $24 a ticket.

Award-winning theaters like Trinity, which started in a church 25 years ago, face pressures to mount increasingly expensive productions.

"I think that some people have perceived that we've become less affordable," Langan said. "But there is a great pressure to produce quality shows, and then the discussion gets into money and then there's pressure on ticket prices."

With a large artistic community centered at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, Langan said he expected many of those taking advantage of the name-your-own-price offer would be close to the starving artist stereotype.

Trinity has set aside $5,000 from a grant to cover projected losses. The theater and its new artistic director, Anne Bogart, hope to find sponsors for similar nights, but already it must seek outside help to meet regular expenses because even the $24 regular price for weekday performances doesn't make ends meet, Langan said.

Only weekend theatergoers, who pay $30, actually cover the costs of the 550-seat theater, he said. Trinity, with student and other discounts, averages about $20 a ticket.