ASK PLAYBILL.COM: TKTS

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: TKTS The inside story about how discount show tickets become available daily at the TKTS booths in Times Square and downtown Manhattan.
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Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

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This week's question comes from A. Tirado from Randolph, NJ.

Question: I've been wondering how the whole TKTS thing works from the standpoint of the individual Broadway shows. Who decides how many tickets are sent over to the TKTS booths? Is there a set number decided at the beginning of each week, or is it determined every day? Do they send over one big bundle in the morning, or throughout the day? And how do they decide how many tickets to send over ( e.g. is it a set percentage of unsold seats)? Answer: For those who don't know, two booths dubbed "TKTS" — one in Times Square (now temporarily at the Marriott Marquis hotel while the booth gets renovated) and another at South Street Seaport — offer discounted tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on the day of the performance.

Each day, each show determines how many of its tickets will be available at the booth, according to David LeShay, the director of communications at the Theatre Development Fund, the not-for-profit performing arts service organization that runs the booths. When TKTS first opened in 1973, the physical tickets were actually taken by hand from the box office to the TKTS booth. Now, everything is done electronically, and the TKTS booth has access to the tickets' computer systems.

Typically, the show will decide how many tickets to make available for a given day either the night before that day or the morning before the booths open. But the system is very fluid — shows can make any number of tickets available at any time. "Decisions can be made by the shows until minutes before curtain," LeShay says. Shows can also take tickets back, if they think they've found another way to sell them, though that rarely happens.

To take Rent as an example, according to the show's spokesperson Richard Kornberg, the box office treasurer is in charge of day-to-day decisions about how many tickets to make available at TKTS, and the number of tickets depends on the time of day. "If there [are] 100 tickets left in the morning for the theatre, they may send 10 or 20 over or none," Kornberg says. "If it's five o'clock, they may send 60 over." The number of tickets still unsold isn't the only factor in the decision-making. The treasurer will also consider whether big names are in the cast, and what time of year it is — during certain times of year, such as Christmas, Broadway does better business, so treasurers can keep more tickets at the box office to sell at full price. Treasurers from different shows will often check with each other to discuss their decisions and gauge buyer demand.

Each show also determines what percentage the discount will be for its tickets — 50 percent (which is what most shows choose), 35 percent or 25 percent. On Rent, the box office treasurer will consult with the producers on this decision.

While the number of tickets can change, the TKTS rule is that the percentage discount must stay constant throughout the day — perhaps so shows don't start adjusting the prices depending on how well the tickets are selling, which might anger tickets buyers who buy a ticket for 25 percent off and then minutes later see it drop to 50 percent.

Not sure what shows are available at TKTS today and don't want to walk to the booths to check? Go to TDF's website at www.tdf.org and follow the links to see a list of what shows were at the booth last week — it's a good guide as to what might be there today.