Thomas Jefferson HS student digitizes spring musical ticket reservations
When Reid Campolong joined TJ Theater last year, he almost immediately identified a problem with how musical tickets were being sold that he knew he could fix.
Large paper printouts of the high school auditoriums' floor plan lay across tables. Sellers would mark by hand which seat was being sold for each night of the show. And that's how ticket sales were tracked.
“I was like, ‘I'm going to do something about it,'” said Campolong, 17, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.
So he did.
The self-taught programmer created a desktop application that could become “a TicketMaster for TJ.”
With the click of a mouse, sellers now can select a seat from a digital blueprint of the auditorium, type in the name of the purchaser and — viola! — the seat turns red, and is marked as sold for the show on every sellers computer.
The program launched last week, as ticket sales are underway for Thomas Jefferson's spring musical “My Fair Lady,” which is set to take stage March 15 to 17.
“It's been amazing,” said Dottie Kutscher, who serves as the public relations coordinator for Thomas Jefferson musicals, where she's overseen ticket sales for the last 15 years. Five or six years ago the school switched to reserved seating. That meant the start of large papers and marking off each seat by hand — sometimes erasing it when a reserved ticket was returned.
Campolong approached Kutscher last year with his idea. She forgot about it until he brought the program to her last week.
“It just went so smoothly,” she said.
That's the goal.
“We're trying to make it very simple for people to go see the show,” said Campolong, who also stars as Col. Hugh Pickering in this year's show. “I think that's what's very important is getting people to come in and see the show. I'm trying to simplify it.”
Campolong has enjoyed writing computer code since he was 12 years old, when he got his first computer.
He learned how to code by searching online. There was a lot of trial and error.
During his freshman and sophomore years, Campolong, of Pleasant Hills, worked as a freelance developer for several companies in the area.
With his past experience, that includes creating a virtual student hall pass for the PA Computer Fair that would allow teachers' to assign students passes to leave their class, Campolong said he knew he could create something that would benefit the theater department.
He spent between 15 and 20 hours creating the program — when he wasn't studying for the five advanced placement courses he's taking this year.
“Whenever you're programming things, you have to think, ‘What does a computer think like?' It was a lot of trial and error and eventually I got it down,” said Campolong, who plans to major in software engineering or computer science in college.
The program has many perks, he said.
If a person loses their ticket, now the school has a way to track who bought that seat.
That already happened this year. Kutscher said she was relieved the ticket was purchased after the program went into use so she could reissue a ticket knowing exactly who bought it.
Often, there are long lines — sometimes out the door — at ticket presale purchases. Campolong said he hopes the program will cut down on that. Now, all the seller has to do is look at their computer and see if the seat is red or green — he created it that simple on purpose — to know if the seat is still available for a given show.
Groups also can select an entire row or section of the auditorium with one click on the screen.
The program even has the potential to allow for online ticket sales, if a credit card purchase is added. The program also can be updated for the new floor plan when the school moves into a new building for the 2018-19 school year.
“It has a lot of potential,” he said.
Another feature Campolong said he could add — one that was in the original design — is to create a website that ticket purchasers can view live on their phone as they wait in line, so they can see which seats are open in live time.
For Campolong, he hopes the program helps Thomas Jefferson begin to utilize technology in more areas.
“It's going to give a push in the right direction,” he said.
He also hopes his work makes people smile.
“I love impacting lives. I love seeing someone smile because of something that I created,” he said. “That's satisfaction on its own.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.