The date was Monday, June 25, 1973, the time 3 PM; the place, a black-and-white trailer with four windows in Duffy Square at Broadway and 47th Street, near a statue of George M. Cohan, composer of "Give My Regards to Broadway."
It was the birth of the discount TKTS booth for same-day theatre seats, a much-loved Times Square phenomenon whose long daily lines have become a quintessential part of the Great White Way. The booth is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and over those three decades it has shown its regard for Broadway and Off-Broadway to the tune of more than $940 million. TKTS was the first of its kind, and it has been a prototype for discount booths worldwide.
Then as now, the organization behind its success was the not-for-profit Theatre Development Fund. But establishing the booth required many helpers, including TDF's Anna E. Crouse, then-Mayor John V. Lindsay, the Shubert Organization and the Ford Foundation. The goals were to make reasonably priced theatre tickets easier to get, attract new and younger audiences and help shows stay open longer.
"It's done exactly what it set out to do," says Victoria Bailey, TDF's executive director. "First, people who otherwise couldn't afford to can buy tickets. It's also a very powerful tool for producers. In addition, in those days, when Times Square had many problems, the booth was a way to help make the area safer, to bring people back."
By every measure, the booth was a success from the very first day. Within 30 minutes, 155 tickets were sold. The New York Times reported that patrons had begun lining up long before 3 PM and that calls had to be made to box offices to get more tickets. "I think it's wonderful," Margaret Harders, one of the first in line, told the Times. She had bought half-price seats for the Michael Bennett-Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical, Seesaw. Other choices included Stephen Sondheim's Tony-winning A Little Night Music, the thriller Sleuth and Neil Simon's Sunshine Boys.
In the first week, 6,961 tickets, costing $31,578, were sold for 20 plays and musicals. At the 21st-century, ultramodern, computerized TKTS, 1.5 million tickets are sold each year. The 30-year total is over 43 million tickets, representing more than $940 million — money that goes directly to the shows.
There are two TKTS booths: uptown in Times Square and downtown at the South Street Seaport. "It's hard to conceive of Times Square without the booth," Bailey says. "We get a lot of first-time theatregoers, and they come back again and again. And the experience is not about seeing a particular play — it's about going to the theatre. The booth says that theatre is here and that its excitement is central to Times Square."