How to Score Discount Tickets to New York Theater
I love theater. But when I moved to New York City nine years ago, I considered a year in which I had seen two or three shows a remarkable feat. Ticket prices mocked me somewhere in the stratosphere, well beyond my reach. Not even my go-go-gadget arm could touch them. Theater was an escape from the harsh realities of daily living. The irony was that the cost of admission was one of those harsh realities. Theater was artful, thought-provoking... and inaccessible.
Fast-forward nine years.
I look back at 2016, which I had dubbed my #YearOfTheater, and consider the 90 shows I had seen, and all the Broadway and off-Broadway houses that collectively served as a second home. How did this happen? Most importantly, how did I make it happen without breaking the bank? All it took was a little know-how. So here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help expedite your journey to theater.
THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT (AND OTHER DIGITAL PLATFORMS)
TodayTix: Download the free TodayTix app, or visit the site, TodayTix.com, for discounted week-of tickets. So there’s the rub – you generally can’t buy more than a week in advance of your preferred date. Also, not all shows are available, but there are dozens of Broadway and off-Broadway shows to choose from. Sort by play or musical, Broadway or off-Broadway, and choose your date. Keep in mind that a $12.50 fee is added onto the listed cost, but you can use my referral code (DDFBA) to save $10 off your first order. And for a small taste of VIP treatment, a friendly concierge waits for you by the theater with your ticket just before curtain.
Digital Lotteries: If you’re feeling lucky, try a digital lottery (or two or 10, in hopes that you might win one) for same-day tickets. TodayTix and Broadway Direct are two options. Keep in mind that some shows use a specific site or app as their official lottery service, so check with the show you’re interested in seeing to find out whether they offer a digital lottery and where to sign up. Broadway Direct currently holds lotteries for Hamilton, Aladdin, Cats, The Lion King, and others. Good luck!
Show-Score: What Rotten Tomatoes does for film, Show-Score.com does for theater. See how thousands of fans and critics rate current and past shows, and read their brief, “tweet-sized” reviews to help inform your purchasing decisions. If you join for free and write just six of your own reviews, you’ll automatically start receiving offers to free shows (okay, so there’s a $5 fee). Most offers are for off-Broadway, which, frankly, is where so much of the most creative and inventive theater lives – but there are the occasional Broadway offers, too. I saw American Psycho on Broadway, orchestra front row center, for free! This is a great option for locals, but if you come to NYC often or live nearby, it’s worth the free sign-up.
BUY IN PERSON
TKTS: Get same-day tickets for 20–50% off with TKTS. Dozens of Broadway and off-Broadway shows are available, but inventory changes throughout the day, so show up at one of the four TKTS booths early for your best shot at scoring a ticket to your preferred show. The flagship location is in Times Square (look for the red steps), but you’re likely to encounter shorter lines at any of the other three locations at South Street Seaport, Lincoln Center, and Brooklyn (MetroTech Center). You can check for current availability (updated in real time) online or via the free TKTS app.
Box Office: If you’re willing to pay full price but want to save on exorbitant Internet fees, buy your ticket at the box office. If you’ve ever purchased online, you know how high those fees can get, and for some, they’re enough encouragement not to buy at all. Get tickets at face value at the box office, and be sure to come prepped with the date, time, and seat that interests you for a smooth and speedy experience. Be sure to check online before making the trip, and come armed with a few options in case your preferred choice is no longer available. Check each show’s website for box office hours. (Note: If you’re looking to buy weeks or months before the show begins performances, this option may not be available to you. Check the show’s website to find out.)
Rush/Standing Room/In-Person Lotteries: Many shows offer same-day rush or standing room tickets. Typically for rush, you have to show up at the box office the morning of the performance for a chance to get discounted tickets. It’s worth noting that a limited allotment of tickets is usually available, so show up early. If you’re able to score standing room tickets, you’ll pay a discounted rate to watch the show from a standing position (so wear comfortable shoes), usually in the rear of the orchestra. Some shows also offer in-person lotteries. Different shows follow different practices, so bookmark this guide for each show’s policy.
JOIN A CLUB
HipTix/LincTix: Roundabout Theatre Company and Lincoln Center Theater – both of which stage terrific Broadway and off-Broadway productions – offer discounted tickets to young adults aged 35 and under. Join RTC’s HipTix and LCT’s LincTix for free to get $25 and $32 tickets, respectively.
TheaterMania’s Gold Club: This option is perhaps best for locals, but it may come in handy for visitors coming from within a stone’s throw from Manhattan. A standard membership with Gold Club costs $99 per year (or $10.99 per month), but then you can watch as many shows as are offered through the club over the course of your membership – all free (but with a $4.50 service fee per ticket). Shows offered don’t stop at Broadway or off-Broadway; concerts, sports, film screenings, comedy, dance, and other shows are also included.
TDF: Depending on your occupation and employment status, you may qualify to join the Theatre Development Fund for an annual fee of just $34. (Among those who qualify to join are full-time students and teachers, recent graduates, retirees, non-profit employees, freelancers, military personnel, and others.) Once your application is accepted, you can get your hands on dozens of shows ranging in cost from $9–$47. Broadway plays cost a flat fee of $42, while musicals cost $47 (add a couple bucks for service fees). Off-Broadway productions, as well as dance, opera, family shows, concerts, and more are also offered. Keep an eye on available shows daily, as new ones are added and dropped regularly. You won’t know where your seat is located until you pick up your ticket at will call, but great orchestra seats are not uncommon. And if you’re a supporter of the arts, you’ll enjoy knowing that your purchases help to support TDF’s arts education and theater accessibility programs.
Broadway/Off-Broadway Week: Dozens of shows are available at a 2-for-1 pricing model during certain weeks of the year. Depending on the show, the limited allotment of tickets may sell out quickly, so it’s key to jump on them as soon as they go on sale. Find out more about Broadway Week and Off-Broadway Week on their respective sites to sign up for alerts, browse available shows, and get the discount code you’ll need to enter upon purchasing.
20at20: The concept is simple: arrive at the theater 20 minutes before curtain and pay $20 (note: some theaters accept cash only, so come prepped with some Jacksons in your pocket). That’s it. Only one ticket may be purchased per person, so be sure to have your entire party with you. Dozens of off-Broadway shows participate during the 20-day period, which occurs twice a year. Learn more about 20at20.
The vast majority of the shows I see are by ushering. Unfortunately for newbies, many theater companies’ usher lists are full, but if you’re able to get on one, the gig is quite easy. Typically, you dress in black, turn up at the theater an hour early, stuff programs, direct patrons to their seats, and clean up at the end. This may be more work than you’d care to do – and it’s not really conducive to date night – but you often get a great seat for free. Perhaps the best part, though, isn’t the show itself. If you have a serious interest in theater, you’ll revel at the chance to watch actors rehearsing on stage and see what happens before the house opens – all the stuff that you don’t get to see with a paid ticket. The vast majority of Broadway shows don’t take volunteers (their ushers are union employees), but there are a select few that do, and many off-Broadway productions do, as well. Contact the theater company or visit its website to find out whether this is an option.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of tips for discounted tickets, but I’m hoping it’s enough to convince you that New York theater doesn’t have to hover beyond your reach. So put some of these tips into action, and immediately enrich your stay in New York City.