This is the one theatre-related question I get more often than any other from my friends. I stress to them that they don’t have to spend a fortune on theatre but they are unaware of where to find those discounts. Unless it’s the hottest show in town, there are many different ways of finding cheap theatre tickets. Producers would love it if you spent full price, and I don’t blame them – it’s a business. However, if you can’t afford those top ticket prices (to say nothing of premium seating), there are many ways that you can maintain a healthy theatre habit without requiring a second mortgage. If you’re not a fan of sitting in the nosebleed seats there are other options available. You may not sit fifth row center orchestra, but you’ll find that you can generally find decent seats at a reasonable price.
First of all, there are the popular TKTS booths. The most notable one is located in Times Square under the red steps. This one sells day-of ticket only. The other two – at South Street Seaport and in Downtown Brooklyn sells tickets on the day of, as well as the day before. The booths are great when you’re in the mood for something random. Discounts are usually 50%, though some more popular shows might be 25-35%. Availability isn’t guaranteed; it’s strictly first come, first serve. But if you’re just looking for a show, it’s hard to beat.
If you like to plan on advance, there are discount codes. Most shows offer wonderful discounts, but you’ve just got to know where to find them. You can sign up for the Playbill Club or browse Theatremania and sign up for their TM Insider Club (or if you’re like me, both) which list available discounts for Broadway, Off-Broadway and other special events in town. Both sites will email new discount opportunities as they are released. There is also BroadwayBox, which doesn’t require registration and offers discounts for theatre and other events in NY. The site is a bit rudimentary in its design, but the codes are correct. There are three ways to purchase the cheap tickets: online, over the phone or at the theatre. If you should happen to go to the box office, you should bring a print out of the discount code with you. Be aware of dates and restrictions; also be aware that producers can cancel a discount at any time. Also, there processing and handling fees when shopping online. You can also sign up for Theatre Extras or Play-by-Play, which are papering services with an annual membership fee.
I also suggest that individuals check to see if they qualify for TDF membership, which supplies affordable theatre prices in and around NYC. Those who qualify for membership include: full-time students, full-time teachers, union members, retirees, civil service employees, staff members of not-for-profit organizations, performing arts professionals, members of the armed forces or clergy. When you join, you will be asked to supply TDF with proof of your eligibility. It costs $30 a year which will pay for itself with the first show you see, the tickets are that cheap. Much to the surprise of many of my friends, I do not qualify. But for those of you that do, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.
Most of the shows provide rush and lottery options. Roundabout has its Hiptix program, which offers $20 tickets (sometimes $10!) for people between 18 and 35. Membership is free and includes perks such as parties and events. Lincoln Center has its own StudentTix program, which functions similarly to LCT’s regular membership. There is a wait list for admission. However, they also offer daily student rush (subject to availability; not all performances offer rush) for $20. One ticket per valid student ID. Other rush options vary. Some shows do lottery (the more popular) and others offer Student or General rush. Student rush obviously requires a valid school ID. General rush and lottery (see next paragraph) tends to require valid photo ID as well. If you’ve got sturdy feet, some shows offer standing room policies too. Sometimes the show must be sold out for that, but sometimes the box office staff is quite nice. Playbill has a concise list of the Broadway rush policies and they update it on a regular basis. (Also, if you’re in high school check your guidance office for those discount vouchers).
Now how does this apply if the show you want to see is one of the hottest tickets in town? For example. I get a lot of inquiries about Wicked. The short answer: Good luck. The longer answer: it’s the hottest show on Broadway and around the world therefore there are no discounts. The cheapest ticket for the Broadway production at the Gershwin is $56.25 in the rear mezzanine. There is one way of getting decent seats: by participating in the day of show lottery – and that itself doesn’t even guarantee entry to the show. The producers keep 25 front row seats available on the day-of for $26.50 each. Entries for the drawing are taken 2 1/2 hours before show, with a drawing half an hour later. It’s cash only with valid photo ID. And it’s a tough lottery to win.
Lottery started with Rent as a way to keep shows that become mammoth sellouts accessible and affordable, particularly to students. Generally, you show up a couple hours, put your name into the drawing (it’s better if you’ve got a friend). The drawing tends to take place thirty to sixty minutes later; and winners must be present. The more popular the show, the more popular (read: difficult) the lotto.
I’ve done TKTS, I’ve done student and general rush. I’ve even seen a couple of shows with TDF members. I’ve only done the lotto once – for the revival of Hair – and won. There are only two shows out of all the ones I’ve seen where I spent full price on an orchestra seat – Grey Gardens and The Light in the Piazza. Those were two very personal exceptions in my long history of not paying full price.
Theatre is more accessible than most people realize and believe me, it’s worth exploring every option.