Broadway is one of the top tourist attractions in the New York City area, but it can also be one of the city’s least accessible. After all, it’s easy enough to show up and buy a ticket to museums like the Met or MoMA, or to wait in line to go to the top of the Empire State Building. But plays and musicals are now more popular (and more expensive) than ever, so seeing New York theater — on Broadway or otherwise — can require not just planning, but real cunning.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get around the gatekeepers and past the marquee. Apps have cropped up to help digitally minded users score cheap tickets, and web memberships are designed to fill empty seats for countless performances. Leave the TKTS booth behind and rely on these tips and tricks instead. You might not score last-minute tickets to the hottest show in town, but you might just see the next “Hamilton” before it blows up.
This app has been a major player in the last few years, letting users order tickets at the click of a button. With TodayTix, you can book tickets last-minute or weeks in advance, as long as you’re okay with picking only the seating section (orchestra, mezzanine, etc.) and leaving the actual seat placement up to chance. This is also where you’ll find daily ticket lotteries, allowing you to enter several drawings with a simple swipe. You can use the app to set alerts for new online lotteries and rush tickets, so you won’t have to show up to each box office in person.
Alyson Ahrns, head of Public Relations at TodayTix, explains that theater-goers can use the app to check in on plays at different steps of their development, effectively seeing a production come to life and reach its full potential once it hits Broadway. “A great way to say you’ve seen the next big hit is to see it during the development process in an off-Broadway theater or at an out-of-town tryout in another city,” she says. “TodayTix offers tickets for many shows at both of these stages, which is the most access a public audience can get.”
“You’ll know when you’re sitting in the theater that you’re seeing something special,” she added. “There’s a certain energy that radiates through the audience when you collectively know a show is a hit.”
A lot of seat-filler services have cropped up recently to help theaters fill their remaining seats. While this won’t get you into a blockbuster show that’s sold out months in advance, it could help you see a lot of new, smaller shows (as well as some great concerts) that you may not hear about otherwise.
These services rely on you having flexibility and an open mind, so if you have your heart set on a specific show during your New York City vacation, this may not be the option for you. Annual membership fees for TheaterExtras or Play-by-Play can seem steep ($99 per person, per year) until you realize a single ticket for a Broadway play will most likely cost more than that, and your membership allows you two free tickets. If you’re in New York for several days and want to catch multiple shows, or if you take several trips to the Big Apple every year, your membership will quickly pay for itself. Just remember to check the listings early every day, and sign up immediately for anything that looks interesting — other members will be looking, too.
Theatre Development Fund
If you’ve ever bought tickets at a TKTS booth, you’ve already helped support the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). Started in 1968 as a way to promote New York theater, its booths (most famously in Times Square, but now elsewhere) are one of the most reliable and well-known ways to see shows, if you aren’t picky about what you see.
But TDF has another, lesser-known component: an annual membership that gives you access to steep discounts ($11-49 per ticket) on shows and other events and supports TDF’s mission of bringing theater to new audiences. Memberships aren’t open to everybody, but one can be yours if you fit into one of many broad subsets including students, teachers, government workers, arts professionals, employees of nonprofits, members of the military and self-employed workers. See if you or a member of your family qualifies.
Of course, if you don’t want to spend a fortune on Broadway, there is one tried and true method: Catch the hits before they become hits. “Hamilton” premiered at the Public Theater. “The Band’s Visit,” which cleaned up at the 2018 Tony awards, started at the Atlantic Theater Company. And this season’s biggest hit, “Hadestown,” began downtown at the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW). These theaters may not rake in the same kind of publicity as Broadway does, but for savvy New Yorkers, they’re the first — and sometimes only — stop for seeing great theater before it goes mainstream.
“I think the off-Broadway experience is unique,” says Jeremy Blocker, NYTW’s managing director. “What you have, in effect, are the best artists in the theater working in an intimate setting and delivering a variety of work that you just don’t see anywhere else.”
He also pointed out that a theater’s small size can be an advantage. “I think that only having to fill 199 seats gives us the flexibility to take chances on things that might only connect with a niche audience,” he says. “New York Theatre Workshop has been a home for work that shouldn’t on paper reach millions of people, but that moves audiences across the country — and around the world.”
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