I see a whole lot of theatre, and I see a whole lot of theatre in New York. It can get expensive if you’re regularly buying full price tickets, so I cut costs by… not doing that.
I have access to some discounts that are only available to students (shout out to those college IDs with no listed expiration date…) (I AM still a student, just not enrolled in a full time degree program), but there are many, many others open to everyone who knows how to find them.
Here’s a rundown of all the ways I save on Broadway and Off Broadway tickets.
Rush and Lottery
Broadway legend has it that in the mid 1990s, the original production of RENT invented rush and lottery. Rush, a system of offering discounted tickets (sometimes in the front row of the theatre) to audience members willing to show up and wait in line before the box office opens the day they want to see a show, quickly led to ticket lotteries, where ticket buyers enter their names into a drawing for discount tickets held two and a half hours before curtain time, when people started camping out in front of the Nederlander overnight hoping to get their hands on those sweet, sweet cheap seats to the musical that changed the face of Broadway. Now, most but not all Broadway shows offer either a rush or lottery, and many lotteries have moved online. Broadway for Broke People offers a comprehensive list of rush and lottery policies for Broadway shows, as does Playbill, though the former is more frequently updated. It can be a pain in the ass to wake up early to stand in line at a box office, especially after a late and boozy night at 54 Below, but rush and lottery are some of the easiest, most well publicized ways to get cheap tickets. Rush and lottery can be limited to students only, and more rarely are offered only to seniors and veterans. A “general rush,” though, is open to anyone who shows up at the right time. Off Broadway shows often offer rush or lottery as well, and your best bet for finding out details on rushing your favorite Off Broadway show is going to be checking the theatre’s website (and sometimes tweeting at them relentlessly). I have gotten many a rush or lottery seat; sometimes they suck, and sometimes they’re some of the best seats in the house, but nothing beats relatively easy-to-nab $30ish Broadway tickets.
Standing Room Only
Like rush and lottery, these tickets are only available at the box office the day of the performance. Typically relegated to the most popular shows on Broadway, SRO is sold only when a performance is completely sold out (though some box offices will start selling standing room when they have only a few seats left and are confident they will sell by the time the performance begins). If a performance is already sold out when the box office opens for the day, then SRO tickets will be sold immediately, but it is also possible that a show will sell out sometime during the day and SRO will be sold, even if it wasn’t available first thing in the morning. The downside? You have to stand at the back of the theatre for the whole show. The upside? Heavily discounted tickets to otherwise sold out performances. I have seen Fun Home several times through SRO and the view is great, but the quality of the experience surely varies based on theatre size and the length of the show you’re seeing.
TDF and Tix4Students
Both of these services offer steeply discounted tickets to paying members. TDF membership is open to students, teachers, union members, people who work for non-profits, members of the clergy, and more. For $40-50 you can grab seats to Broadway plays and musicals, and you can get tickets for Off Broadway shows for even less. Membership costs me $12 a year, though the price varies by how far you live from the city, and it is well worth it. Seats are assigned to TDF ticket buyers the day of the performance, and producers often want their shows to appear to be sold out to audience members sitting in the orchestra, so while there is no way of knowing where your seats will be until you pick up your tickets from will call, you can end up with some of the best seats available to the performance you’re seeing. Last fall I grabbed TDF tickets to the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening and was shocked to find that I was assigned fifth row center orchestra aisle seats. Unlike TDF, Tix4Students, as you would guess, is open only to college students and costs $5-7 a year. The site generates a unique discount code for members, who can then choose their seats to participating shows. Tickets range from $30ish-$50ish and are usually for seats in the theatre’s mezzanine. I’m heading to the city this weekend and bought most of my tickets through Tix4Students. These sites offer tickets that are typically a hair more expensive than rush, lottery, or SRO, but guarantee in advance that you will be seeing a certain show on a certain date. The money you save on even one ticket a year means that the membership costs pay for themselves easily.
Many subscription based, non-profit theatre companies offer free student or youth memberships to their younger audience members. Roundabout has Hiptix. Lincoln Center has Linctix. Manhattan Theatre Club has 30 Under 30. Off Broadway, Playwrights Horizons has Young Memberships, MCC Theater has the Twentysomethings Program, and the Public Theater has student tickets, though you do have to buy them in person. I saw Cabaret and Violet for $25. I am seeing Long Day’s Journey into Night for $25. Eventually, I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity to see The King and I for $30. Even if you don’t think you’ll use them, sign up for these programs if you qualify. They’re so, so worth it.
Shows frequently publicize online discount codes that can be punched into Telecharge or Ticketmaster during your ticket search. While usually offering a modest amount of money knocked off the full price of a ticket, discount codes can make a hideously expensive show accessible to people who only want to pay regular expensive Broadway prices. BroadwayWorld, BroadwayBox, and Theatermania are good places to start in your search for a decent discount; if none of the three offer a discount code to the show you want to see, it’s likely that there aren’t any online discounts available. This is usually a last resort ticket method for me, as, in the absence of cheaper buy-in-advance options, I’d rather leave it up to chance and score cheap day of seats than lock in tickets to a certain show by paying a much higher price.
Another day of ticket method is the famed TKTS booth in the heart of dreaded Times Square. Shows that aren’t selling well for their performance that day will send excess tickets to TKTS where they are offered for 20-50% off face value. The lines can be long but usually move quickly, and there’s an express line for people only interested in seeing straight plays (as opposed to musicals). I’ve only used this method once or twice because the discounts usually aren’t as good as those offered via rush or TDF, but if you are committed to a show and it is being offered at TKTS that day, it is a reliable way to save some money.
Known as the app-based equivalent to TKTS, TodayTix offers discount tickets to smartphone-owning audience members a few days to a few hours in advance of a performance. This app is good for the same reasons as its in-person counterpart, though I am put off by its hefty fees. Several Broadway shows also run their lotteries through the TodayTix app. If you do end up using the app for tickets, use my referral code IUVIP and we will both get a $10 credit to use on future ticket purchases.
You’ll have to figure this one out on your own, as revealing details about these programs is the easiest way to get your own tickets cancelled and memberships revoked. However, I’ll say this: there are websites that offer complimentary theatre tickets to their members. I am confident you can use Google well enough to find yourself one.
I’ll preface this description with the fact that I haven’t used this service. I really like Broadway Roulette’s concept, particularly for tourists who don’t know a lot about the NYC theatre scene but don’t want to leave the city without seeing one unforgettable Broadway show. Pay $45, pick a date and time, and leave the decision about what show you’ll be seeing up to Broadway Roulette. Their current listings claim you could end up seeing anything from Wicked to Blackbird, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one for kids or people committed to seeing something they’ve heard of. I would do this in a heartbeat if I had an extra day in the city or if I didn’t love planning my theatre-centric vacations down to the minute.
So, how do I afford all these tickets? I pretty much refuse to ever pay full price for expensive theatre, unless I am truly and wholly committed to a show that simply does not offer discounts (i.e. Hamilton). I’m lucky to qualify for programs only available to students and young people, but even those who don’t qualify can benefit by spending time with the young people in their lives. Take your teenage nephew or the Token Millennial in your office to a cool show, and you’ll have a chance to bond while saving money on seats to something excellent.
Go see a play.