Big om: Dalai Lama visit a hot ticket

It's official: the Dalai Lama is a rock star.  According to Paramount Theater box office manager Matthew Simon, tickets to see Tenzin Gyatso, the 76-year old Nobel Prize-winning 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, which went on sale August 13, sold out in just 10 minutes.

"The only other event that sold out that fast was the Yo-Yo Ma concert," says Simon.

And this despite ticket prices as high as $200 a pop.

A companion appearance at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion is scheduled for the same day, and those tickets, with almost the same price points– $200 (gold circle), $100 (lower orchestra), $75 (upper), $50 (limited view), $25 (general), $15 (students)– were expected to go just as fast when they went on sale August 17. Indeed, by August 20 only $200 and $100 tickets at the Pavilion were still available.

Considering that the Dalai Lama does not charge speaking fees, and that he likes to encourage as many people to attend as possible, some locals were a little disappointed with the expensive 'VIP' ticket prices.

"There are a lot of Charlottesville folks who, I'm sure, would like to hear and see him, but will not be able to afford the tickets," say Dalai Lama fan Bill Domenick. "As a frequent Pavilion visitor, you and I both know that the lawn/plaza area will afford absolutely no view at all."

Indeed, tickets for a Dalai Lama event last year at Radio City Music Hall went for between $30-$40, and similar lectures by His Holiness in San Diego and Chicago were in the $25-30 range. Of course, tickets for an appearance at Western Connecticut State University this year went for as much as $200 in June, and last year two VIP tickets to a Dalai Lama appearance in Australia went for $10,000 each.

But here's the catch, says Marjorie 'Sunflower' Sargent, a human rights activist and member of the nonprofit Foundation for American Heritage Voices, which is organizing the event: the contract you sign with the Dalai Lama when he agrees to an appearance specifically states that any surplus ticket revenue, beyond what is needed to cover expenses, must go to charity.

"And we will have to make our expenses, and where the extra money goes, available to the public," says Sargent.   

"I truly wish the prices could have been lower," says Angela 'Silver Star' Daniels, president of the Foundation for American Heritage Voices (FAHV). "But in light of the expenses involved, including international travel for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his entourage, and given the limited number of seating, it's a fair price."

"We had hoped that UVA would be a co-sponsor, and originally wanted to hold the event at John Paul Jones Arena," says Sargent, "but the University declined, saying it would be too expensive to sponsor the visit, and that JPJ was already booked."

Already booked? UVA couldn't accommodate one of the world's most iconic figures?

What's more, given the prominence of UVA's Tibetian Studies Center, Sargent finds it odd that UVA, with its considerable resources, would leave the whole handling of such a visit to a small, local nonprofit organization. For instance, professor Jeffery Hopkins, who founded programs in Buddhist Tibetan study at UVA, served as the Dalai Lama's official interpreter for a number of years. Hopkins is also credited with organizing the Dalai Lama's 1998 visit to UVA.

In fact, the event at the Paramount is a panel discussion about the integrating of Tibetan-style mindfulness into Western health care, featuring five members of UVA's Medical School faculty, all attending at their own expense. At the Pavilion event, during which the Dalai Lama will talk about his new book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, Hopkins will introduce him.

University spokesperson Carol Wood fired off a quick note saying the University couldn't accommodate the Dalai Lama because the JPJ arena was already booked for the annual Martha's Market shopping extravaganza, sponsored by Martha Jefferson Hospital to benefit women’s healthcare.

Wood says the University considered being a sponsor, but says the idea was put forward too late in the year, and that "after balancing the request with other institutional priorities, it was determined that we would not participate."

"We communicated directly with members of the Dalai Lama's staff that we would welcome a future visit," says Wood, "one in which we believed we would have both adequate time and resources designated to devote to making a meaningful visit for our students, staff, and faculty."

Sargent says University officials told them it would cost around $500,000 to sponsor the visit. The current visit isn't costing close to that amount, says Sargent, but it does amount to three times the FAHV's annual budget. Had the event been scheduled at JPJ, where 15,000 people could have attended, tickets prices would have likely been in the $10 range, says Sargent.

Still, Daniel says that students will be able to purchase general admission tickets for the Pavilion event for $15. In addition, the FAHV is providing free live streaming of both events on the Internet.

"Organizations with screens and projectors can project the two events free of charge into their facilities," says Daniel.

There will be a live streaming of the Pavilion event shown on the big screen at the Paramount. Tickets to that are $7.

"Of course, even free admission doesn't guarantee access," says Daniel. "For example, I went to see the Dalai Lama in Washington D.C. several years ago. The event was free. But I couldn't see him because there were so many people. I watched the event on the large screens that were provided."

Since the Dalai Lama is considered a visiting head of state, security is always handled by the State Department. And Sargent wants to clarify some misinformation that made its was into some media stories: the Dalai Lama will not be walking on the Mall from the Paramount to the Pavilion.

"His state department security detail won't allow it," says Sargent.

In addition to the  FAHV, the Tibetan Association of Charlottesville, the UMA Institute for Tibetan Studies, and the City of Charlottesville are also hosting the event. According to press materials, the Dalai Lama's theme for the visit will be "Compassion as a Global Remedy."

Good luck getting tickets.


UVA wouldn't accommodate HHDL or support the Dr's because it didn't want to offend China. !!!

I hope you keep digging Hawes and expose the spineless people behind these decisions. I can't believe they caved. I better stop here before I get really fired up..

He is precious One and not just a Rockstar !

All editors the world over need to take out the Stylebook and smack the hands of writers who use hackneyed terms like "rock star." And while you're at it, rap the knuckles for "game-changer" as well. Ugh!

R.I.P.: George Reeves