Broadway's TKTS Discount Booth: A User's Guide

Broadway's TKTS Discount Booth: A User's Guide On a recent Friday afternoon at New York City's Times Square TKTS booth, sultry jazz music played on bass, trumpet and drum set mimicked the hot, humid weather as a long line of ticket buyers waited to start their weekend with a show -- as they have for more than two decades.

On a recent Friday afternoon at New York City's Times Square TKTS booth, sultry jazz music played on bass, trumpet and drum set mimicked the hot, humid weather as a long line of ticket buyers waited to start their weekend with a show -- as they have for more than two decades.

Some are tourists who've never stood on the line before, or seen a Broadway show. Others are veterans of such lines, ready to share their experience and provide 30-second theatre reviews to anyone who will listen. Playbill On-Line talked to ticket buyers and offers this survey of how to survive the Broadway half-price line -- and what it feels like to be on it.

First, you need to stop and peruse The List. At the north end of Duffy Square is a computerized board listing that day's offerings. Here's the list as of 4:30 PM, Aug. 15. Compare it with the much shorter 10-minutes-to-curtain list later in this story.

Broadway

A Doll's House
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Barrymore
Forever Tango
Grease!
Jekyll & Hyde
Les Miserables
Miss Saigon
Smokey Joe's Cafe
The Gin Game
The King and I
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
The Life Off-Broadway

A Brief History of White Music
Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back
Full Gallop
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change
Late Night Catechism
Mere Mortals
Perfect Crime
When Pigs FlyM
Always...Patsy Cline
Bermuda Avenue Triangle
Grandma Sylvia's Funeral
How I Learned to Drive
Making Porn
Mass Appeal
Sugar Down Billy Hoak
Tap Dogs
The Fantasticks
Trinity Irish Dance Company

Two lines crawl along the sides of Duffy Square. On one side waits Karen Davis of Boston, MA visiting New York with her husband and two children. After waiting in line for about ten minutes, approximately 40 people are ahead of her and she tells Playbill On-Line, "Yesterday we waited in line for about an hour, we got here right at 3 PM when they opened, and got tickets to The King and I." Today she and her family want tickets for Grease! They came to TKTS because "it was a spur of the moment trip, so we didn't have tickets."

On the other side of the square, Laura Bevins, on vacation and from Norfolk, VA, waits with a group of friends. She's been waiting 10 minutes and was hoping to get tickets for "Rent, or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, or any comedy-musical," but she is still not sure what they'll see, "I think it's going to be like a lottery!" Like most people in line, Bevins doesn't mind waiting, she came to TKTS because "it's cheaper!"

"I wanted to see Rent and Chicago, says Christine Zufelt, on vacation from Syracuse, NY, but since they are not on the board, she and her boyfriend will get tickets for Smokey Joe's Cafe or Jekyll & Hyde. "We did go right to the theatres and found out that we couldn't get those top couple, so we thought we'd just come here and get something cheaper," she says, and adds that it's her first time in the TKTS line.

Near the front of the line on one side, the sun glares off a steel drum as a musician plays. Across the square an elderly man sits on a wall and quietly plays his flute. Newly arrived ticket buyers squint to read the names of shows as they appear in red on the digital boards.

At 7:40 PM tickets are still on sale but the selection is limited. There are no lines at the red and white ticket wickets but 30 people or so mill about in front of the boards, where the remaining shows are:

Broadway

A Doll's House
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Barrymore
Forever Tango
Jekyll & Hyde
Miss Saigon
Smokey Joe's Cafe
The Gin Game
The King and I
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
The Life

Off-Broadway

A Brief History of White Music
Full Gallop
Late Night Catechism
Mere Mortals
Perfect Crime
When Pigs FlyM
Making Porn
Sugar Down Billy Hoak

Couples pace about, hurriedly glancing from their watches to the board. "We're kind of spontaneous," says Gemma Wheeler of New York, "We just come up and see what's here, because they have different percentages, so that's the kind of variance we choose for." She wasn't hoping to see anything in particular, "He's (her companion) trying to see The King and I, but I don't know if Lou Diamond Phillips is still there." She stares at the board and turns her nose up as she says, "But I don't know, they're not striking my interest as much...maybe Miss Saigon, I don't know, I really don't know."

Ron Cohen, also of New York just purchased tickets with three of his friends. Why did he wait so late? "No lines." His bought tickets for his first choice, Barrymore, and says, "Front row, mezzanine. Perfect. We're happy."

Helen Fleischer and her family from Toronto, Canada are visiting for the weekend and at 7:55 PM they don't see their top choices, Les Miserables and Grease! "We weren't planning on seeing anything tonight," she says, so the family decides to return and try their luck tomorrow, when Les Miserables will have two performances.

"I was on business and had to get off business to come on over," says Glenn Strong of Salt Lake City, UT. With five minutes to curtain and his first choice, Miss Saigon, sold out, he says he'll get a ticket, "Probably for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

TKTS booth workers, wearing bright red TDF t-shirts, cover the boards with black wooden cases and as curtains rise in theatres around the city, another day of TKTS-selling is over.


Tips to Ticket-buying at TKTS

* Tickets can be paid for only with cash or traveller's checks.

* To avoid disappointment, come to the line with a few shows in mind that you would like to see. Shows appearing on the board when you arrive may not still be there once you reach the front of the line.

* If you must see a certain show, arrive at the line early but be prepared to wait an hour or more.

* Check the weather report and dress accordingly.

* Make use of your time spent waiting, strike up a conversation with the people in line around you. They may be able to offer advice on what's hot and what's not theatre wise, and on other things to do in the city. Otherwise, bring a newspaper, book or other diversion.

* If you are adventurous, wait until a half hour or less before curtain to get your tickets. There may be less of a selection, but the lines, if any, are shorter. Shows you may not expect to see will occasionally pop up on the board closer to curtain times, and shows that are already there sometimes release more tickets.

* Keep an open mind. Try an Off-Broadway show, where many of today's stars got their start -- who knows who you might see on stage?


Run by Theatre Development Fund (TDF), TKTS offers 25-50 percent discounts on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on the day of performance. Hours for the TKTS booths are as follows:
Duffy Square (West 47th St.): Mon-Fri 3-8 PM for evening performances. Wed & Sat 10 AM-2 PM for matinees only. Sunday 11AM to closing for matinee and evening tickets.

Two World Trade Center: Mon-Fri 11 AM-5:30 PM, Sat 11 AM-3:30 PM. At this location only you can also buy full-price advance sale tickets to all Broadway & most Off-Broadway shows. Also, at this location only you can buy tickets for the next day's matinee.

For a daily list of what shows are on the boards, visit http://newyork.sidewalk.com/arts_music/TKTS

--By Laura MacDonald