by Theater editor Michael Portantiere
As mentioned in ArtsAmerica’s genre introduction to theater, New York City remains the theatrical capital of the world in the sense that, with a few exceptions, plays and musicals are not considered to be well established artistically or commercially in this country until they have had a New York run, whatever their original provenance. This is largely because media coverage of and industry attention towards what’s playing on or Off-Broadway remains much stronger and more intense than the focus on theater in other markets.
Once upon a time, great plays and musicals originated on Broadway, usually after brief pre-Broadway runs in other cities such as Boston, New Haven, and Philadelphia. Now, Broadway and, to a lesser extent, Off-Broadway act as a sort of clearing house: If a show opens elsewhere to critical acclaim and is perceived to have commercial appeal, chances are good that it will receive a major New York production before going on to a further life in professional, community, and educational theater venues all over the nation and the globe. Among the many recent examples of this phenomenon are Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County, which premiered at the Steppenwolf in Chicago; and the musicals Sister Act, Billy Elliot, and the upcoming Ghost, all of which were first presented on the London stage.
Because of the breadth and complexity of the New York theater world, Arts America has divided these listings into five subcategories for easier browsing:
- Broadway: All current and upcoming shows at the forty Broadway theaters clustered in and around Times Square.
- Major Non-Profit Theater Companies: The Lincoln Center Theater, the Public Theater, the Roundabout Theatre Company and their ilk: well-established companies that continue to break new theatrical ground.
- Off Broadway Theater Companies: Smaller, quirkier companies like the Vineyard Theatre and the Atlantic Theatre Company that hearken back to the old experimental days of New York theater, and usually offer a pretty good bang for the buck.
- Specialized Theater Companies: Companies dedicated to a specific type of production: the Ma-Yi Theatre Company, for instance, which is dedicated to the development of new plays by Asian-American playwrights.
- Multi-Theater Venues: Multiple theaters under one roof, like 59E59 Theaters, which hosts productions by non-profits from around the world on its three stages.
Tickets prices for both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows have increased drastically over the past 25 years or so, but here’s the good news: so has the number of options for obtaining major discounts. Whereas so-called “twofers” were once pretty much the only way to buy tickets for less than full price, today potential audience members whose love of theater is greater than their bank accounts can take advantage of lotteries, student programs, discount codes available through various websites, and membership in such organizations as the Theatre Development Fund. These resources are vital to the continued health and quality of New York theater in that people who are paying $50 or $60 for a ticket as compared to upwards of $125 are far more likely to take a chance on a new show with no star names in the cast rather than the latest star-driven revival, revisal, or “jukebox” musical.
So, when opening your wallet to buy a ticket, please try to have an open mind as well. When all is said and done, you’ll be rewarded for doing so. Enjoy the show!
Since opening in 1973 New York City’s TKTS (pronounced “Tee-Kay Tee-Ess”, not “tickets”) has sold over 51 million discounted Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets. Currently operating three booths (South Street Seaport, Downtown Brooklyn and the recently redesigned booth in Duffy Square at 47th Street and Broadway, the north end of Times Square) this is the most popular cheap ticket theater-ticket alternative.
For many theater lovers visiting New York City, a trip to the TKTS discount booth in Times Square is a necessity. Despite the long lines that frequently form at this bustling spot, tourists and locals looking for same- day entertainment bargains patiently line up to enjoy up to 50% off on tickets for numerous Broadway and off- Broadway productions, as well as other specially discounted events.
Since opening in 1973, the Times Square TKTS booth (run by the not- for- profit Theatre Development Fund) has offered discounted theater tickets, and in recent years has expanded its services to include on-line offers that can be utilized from the comfort of home several days or weeks in advance of the show. Using codes provided by TDF through Telecharge or Ticketmaster, you can purchase low cost tickets in advance for many of the same productions offered at the booth. TDF also runs two other centrally located TKTS booths in NYC; one in lower Manhattan at the South Street Seaport, as well as a Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue location in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. (Note: Please be aware that on-line discounts are not as generous as those found at the TKTS booth.)
Despite the added convenience of online discounts, the experience of visiting the TKTS booth is a singular one, and last minute offerings from in-demand productions can become available at any time during the booth’s hours of operation. Even though major hit shows playing at high capacity will not be available through TDF, on average up to 85% of the shows running on Broadway in any given week will offer discounted tickets through the organization.
Before you set out, check out the TDF’s recently redesigned website which will tell you how often a particular play or musical is available “at the window.” You can also sign up for daily email updates if you plan on using the TKTS booth on a regular basis.
Try to arrive at the booth approximately one hour before it opens to get first crack at the shows being offered that day. TKTS opens at 10am on matinee days and at 3pm on days with evening performances only. If you can’t get to the TKTS booth early, don’t worry! Ticket supplies are replenished throughout the day, so even as late as 7 or 7:30PM, there is availability. Choices may be limited, but lines are much shorter at this time and it’s always worth it to investigate what’s being offered. The booth also has two “Plays Only” windows to accommodate customers seeking non- musical entertainment. If your preference is a straight play, this line moves very quickly and will save you time.
In addition to the cost of the tickets, TKTS assesses a $4 surcharge per ticket for all purchases. Also remember that even though the Times Square TKTS location (finally) accepts credit cards, the other locations accept cash or traveler’s checks only.
Although you won’t be able to select your exact seats, TKTS patrons are frequently offered different seating options for specific productions at varying prices.
The TKTS booth is not a great option if you have your heart set on seeing this season’s hot musical hit – but it can be a reliable source for quality theater at a reasonable price.
Location: Under the red steps in Father Duffy Square; Broadway and 47th Street.
Hours: For evening performances: Monday – Saturday 3pm – 8pm, Sundays 3pm until one-half hour before the latest curtain time being sold. For matinee performances: Wednesdays and Saturdays 10am – 2pm (Please note: no evening tickets are sold from 10am to 2 pm at Times Square) Sundays 11am – 3pm
Public Transportation: Excellent (Easily accessible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, N, R,W, A and C Subway to Times Square)
South Street Seaport
Location: Corner of Front and John Streets, at 199 Water Street.
Hours: For same-day evening and next day matinee performances: Monday – Saturday 11am – 6pm,
Sunday 11am – 4pm. Note: Matinee tickets are only sold on the day before at TKTS Seaport
Public Transportation: Very Good (Easily accessible via Subway lines J,M,Z,2,3,4,5 to Fulton Street or the A,C line to Broadway-Nassau, as well as M15 bus)
Location: 1 MetroTech Center, at the corner of Jay Street and Myrtle Avenue.
Hours: For same-day evening and next day matinee performances: Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm Note: Matinee tickets are only sold on the day before at TKTS Brooklyn
Public Transportation: Very Good (Easily accessible via Subway lines A, C and F to Jay Street-Borough Hall; M, R, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to Court Street-Borough Hall or M and R to Lawrence Street, as well as multiple MTA bus lines)
New York’s “Papering Services” perform a dual deed. Theaters are able to get additional bodies into their seats (a big boost for the artists on stage) and the members are able to get good seats at very little cost. Most frequently the shows being offered are at the very beginning (and/or the very end) of their run – but we are consistently surprised by the quality of the offerings. They also offer extensive and excellent classical music, dance and jazz/cabaret offerings. We have friends who only see shows that they can get through a papering service – and they consider their cultural lives quite fulfilling.
There are currently four papering services in New York City:
Audience Extras – Annual Membership Fee is $85, plus an initial deposit of $30 to start your Personal Reserve Fund. Each ticket is charged off your fund at $3.50.
Play-by-Play – Annual fee is $107 plus $3.50 per ticket.
TheaterMania – Annual Fee is $89 and there are no additional fees for tickets. While this is the cheapest arrangement, we find that they generally have the weakest selection.
Theater Extras – Annual fee is $99 plus a $4 per ticket charge. The relative new kid on the “Papering Service” block, Theater Extras not only has the best inventory, they consistently send out emails telling members about the latest offerings.
If money is tight, join Theater Extras; however, many folks do sign-up for all four. And one final word on Papering Services: unlike other sources of tickets Papering Services have little tolerance for “no-shows.” Warm bodies are their business, and if you do not show up, they lose out. Repeated no-showing may cause the service to cut off your membership, so if you have a good reason not to go, notify them immediately. If you don’t have a good reason, go to the show.
One of the major sources of theatre, dance and concert tickets for in-the-know New Yorkers, TDF operates the TKTS windows in Manhattan as well as an on-line ticket discount service for their membership. The on-line service is extremely user-friendly (except that you do not know where your seats are until you get to the theatre) and the overall ticket inventory and prices are excellent. The trick is obtaining a TDF membership – you must belong to one of the following groups: 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. Upon application you do have to prove eligibility but once you’re in you’re in! When Jeffrey and Norma came to New York, they were able to join TDF because of Norma’s teaching background – and Jeffrey had no problem obtaining tickets on her account (using his credit card). He was later able to get his own membership through the Freelancers Union. TDF also sells Off-Off-Broadway vouchers in sets of four for $36. Although you do not have to be a member to obtain them it is not always clear which theatres are accepting them on any given night.
Half-price on-line Services
While New York City offers a variety of very cheap tickets their half-price on-line offers can be meager. Unlike similar services in other towns, you cannot obtain half-price tickets from the TKTS service on-line – you have to go to one of their booths. Also the Goldstar’s New York section does not have anywhere near the selection found in Chicago or Los Angeles or even Boston. Worth a free look, but you may be disappointed.
Ticket Discount Sites (Playbill.com; BroadwayBox.com; TheaterMania; Season of Savings) –
Probably the most reliable source for obtaining discounted Broadway tickets (as well as tickets to other performance events) on a specific date, including seat numbers, are one of the these five websites, all featuring 15-50% discounts (which computes to less when you add all the service fees). The best time to hit any of these sites is before the reviews come out, especially for musicals. Plays can usually be obtained anytime, except for well-reviewed star-studded limited runs. Each of these sites offer free email notification announcing new shows and/or new discounts. Ticket Central and Smart Tix are good sources for Off and Off-Off Broadway tickets and discounts, especially if you sign up for their email services.
You’re coming to New York City for a three-day trip next month, and during your time in the city there are three Broadway shows you would really like to see; Show A is a popular musical, Show B is a recently-opened straight play that got very good reviews and Show Cwill be in previews.How should you go about buying tickets?If you are coming on Thanksgiving Week, or between Christmas and New Year’s, then consider booking all tickets well ahead of time when many discounts are still available. During any other time of the year business at most shows allows you many more “less than full price” choices.
The first step is to research how popular these shows are. Go to Broadway.com and click on “Grosses.” This will give you sales information regarding the last two weeks of almost every Broadway show. If you click on each show, it will give you several weeks more.
Now let’s examine the ticket availability and pricing options for each show:
Show A is steadily grossing 95% a week or better and the average price per ticket for this production is over $100. Tickets to this show, especially on the weekend, will have to be purchased well in advance, and you may have to obtain premium seats ($300+) through Ticketmaster or an independent ticket broker to get in at all. You may want to hold off on seeing this show at the moment if you are on a budget (and you should be!) Chances are, this show will be around a long time, and tickets will be available in the near future for considerably less.
Show B (the straight play) is doing playing to 75% capacity with the average ticket price at around $52. Tickets will be probably available to this show at one of the TKTS windows during your stay. If it is really important that you to see this show, or you notice that business has been steadily increasing over the last few weeks, then go through Playbill.com or BroadwayBox.com and purchase advance tickets with a discount code.
As for Show C, here’s the thing to remember- almost every show in previews is selling tickets through the TKTS window, unless it is a musical that had strong out-of-town notices or is based on a successful London production. At the very least, Show C should be available using a discount code.
As a final piece of advice, remember this- do not fill every available “show” slot in your schedule before you come to town. A little breathing room should be built into your theater schedule in case you decide to do something totally different or simply take a break.