When I prepared to make the cross-country migration from rainy, coastal, metropolitan Seattle to rainy, coastal, metropolitan Manhattan to start a new chapter of life ambiguously titled “higher education,” I was besieged by reports of all my new home would have to offer. “New York,” reported the frequent-fliers in my life, “has the best art and culture in the world. Ballet, the symphony, Broadway theater, international cuisine—it’s all there and it’s all the best in the world.” Little did these jealous middle-agers know that fine art in this collegiate corner of the Big Apple consists of artisanal Milano sandwiches, glimpses of Sabor practicing outside Roone Arledge Auditorium, and the occasional cursory glance at a student painting hanging outside the Barnard dance studios. It well may be that New York City boasts the best dance, music, theater, and food in the universe, but very few students would know that, as this city is designed to be accessed most easily by a multi-millionaire. Broadway tickets at face value run between $50 and $300, depending on the popularity of the show and the seating. And yet if the play is the thing and the money never has been, there is still a way. I give you the tips and secrets of affordable Broadway tickets.
To start off our tickets tour, TKTS operates three booths in New York City selling slashed-price Broadway tickets for day-of performances. The one closest to Morningside is in Times Square (you may have to get over that phobia if you want to see live commercial theater). TKTS always has tickets, though the shows and the discount amounts change every day, so it is a gamble. When you get to the head of the line, the salesperson can walk you through your best option and seat selection. I recommend coming with a list of your top five choices and a price range already in mind. This is a convenient, reliable method, and affords the greatest number of options, but it is also significantly more expensive than a rush or lottery ticket.
The idea of general or student rush tickets was born with everyone’s favorite ’90s rock-opera about AIDS, “Rent,” which offered $20 tickets to anyone an hour before the show so that the musical wouldn’t be restricted to people outside the social status of the characters portrayed in the musical. Now, many shows offer student or general rush tickets, each with a different policy, which can be found on shows’ websites. General rush means that a certain number of cheap tickets are set aside for each show and sold at the box office when it opens in the morning. Student rush is the same, but purchase requires a valid student ID. Current examples of this are “Machinal” ($32, two per person), “Pippin” ($37, one per person), and “Cinderella” ($32, one per person). Most of these shows offer tickets “when the box office opens,” which means depending on the popularity of the show (“Pippin,” for example), more people are often in line than tickets are available by 7:30 a.m. If you’re serious about getting tickets, get there at 7 a.m. with cardboard to stand on and a travel-mug. Godspeed.
Another option for the gamblers of this world is the lottery. Entering a lottery for a Broadway show may or may not be more emotionally draining and oppressive than standardized testing. Über-popular shows like “Kinky Boots,” “Matilda,” “Wicked,” and “The Book of Mormon” offer $27 to $40 tickets (depending on the show) that you can win by entering your name into a lottery a few hours before the curtain. This requires less waiting and early rising than rush, but will also stomp on your heart and showtune-loving soul if you lose.
If you prefer a surefire way of getting discounted tickets, our very own TIC and Diana Center Store have policies that can be difficult to decipher but actually provide some of the best ticket deals. Both offices sell tickets for Broadway shows in advance at reduced prices. TIC-style services offer fewer shows and restricted dates, but the shows tend to be fairly popular, the tickets are often almost as cheap as rush, and this is one of the only options listed here where the ticket can be purchased in advance.
The Hiptix program offers $20 to $25 tickets to 18- to 35-year-olds for all shows at the Roundabout Theatre (where Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming are doing “Cabaret”). Availability for dates is limited, but tickets are cheap and you will not have to stand in line.
Standing room is also a possibility, and before you freak out, standing for two hours is way easier than you think, especially if you’re seeing “The Book of Mormon” and are distracted by a whole chorus singing unmentionable things about God in three-part harmonies. Plus, theaters usually give you a wall to lean on and a good view. These tickets are cheap and go for shows like “Chicago,” “Mamma Mia,” “Newsies,” and more—but only when the show is completely sold out.
Second Acting is where things get shady. It’s a practice that was popularized in the ’70s but has fallen slightly out of vogue, in which people who have not paid for tickets sidle up to the theater during intermission, when the audience is permitted to wander outside the theater, and attempt to sneak in with the masses. Try this at your own risk.
Previews aren’t quite as suspicious. They occur when Broadway shows are in the first few weeks of production and are still changing major elements of the show. Tickets to previews are significantly less expensive and include the thrill of fear that the actors may pause to fix something. Or if it’s “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” they may die.
Urban New York always seems to me like an incarnation of Satan sent to raise hopes and then dash them against the icy Manhattan pavement, but sometimes people do actually get tickets, apparently.
Finally, there is a whole other thing called off-Broadway, which means smaller, generally less decadent professional theater in Manhattan. This is the thing that spawned shows like “Urinetown,” “Avenue Q,” “Doubt,” and countless other less-commercial theater ventures at fractions of the price of Broadway tickets. But that’s a story for another column.
Jenny Singer is a Barnard College junior majoring in English. Singer on Broadway runs alternate Fridays.