If This Is Tuesday ...

MOVIEGOERS who weren't born yesterday remember when theaters offered cut-rate admissions for all matinee features. Budget-conscious patrons could arrive anytime before 5 p.m. and enjoy a cheap first-run movie.

Eventually those discounts disappeared in many communities for all but the first matinee showing. Customers have been forced to show up around lunchtime if they wanted to avoid paying as much as $7 a ticket in big cities. The only exceptions have been children and seniors, who always qualify for lower prices.

Now Universal Pictures hopes to make moviegoing more wallet-friendly again. To stimulate attendance, which dropped about 8 percent last year throughout the industry, the studio has started offering half-price tickets at its first-run films on Tuesdays. It is also asking participating theater chains to cut prices that day on popcorn, candy, and soft drinks.

What Universal calls an "experiment" is patterned after a successful five-year-old discount plan in Canada, which reportedly draws almost as many movie patrons on Tuesdays as on weekends.

In a similar move effective this week, Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh is introducing a new $15 ticket-price scale for four plays, including "Miss Saigon" and "The Phantom of the Opera." Although the top price of orchestra seats for "Miss Saigon" and "Phantom" will rise to $65 from $60 to make the new low-price seats possible, the $100 top-price ticket for "Miss Saigon" will be dropped. The changes were made, Mr. Mackintosh's general manager explained, "to be more in keeping with the mood of the cou ntry."

Finding creative ways like these to stimulate business during a recession can benefit more than the corporate bottom line. In the case of movies and plays, affordable entertainment offers busy workers and families the promise of a pleasant break from everyday routines and responsibilities. If other movie theaters follow Universal's lead, Tuesday evening could become a mini-weekend of sorts, complete with its own rallying cry: T.G.I.T.

Two half-price Tuesday tickets and a tub of discounted popcorn, please.

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