It may not look the same in a couple of years, but the 26-year-old idea remains one of the most visionary concepts in all New York theatre: a half-price ticket booth in the heart of Times Square.
Sure, things have changed already. Back on June 25, 1973, TKTS opened for business in the back of a donated trailer; now the Duffy Square booth - and its two long lines of customers -- have become a part of the New York landscape and influenced the creation of similar booths in such cities as San Francisco, Chicago and Sydney.
Last year, TDF celebrated the TKTS' 25th anniversary with a party at the booth, featuring a showtune band and celebrity guests. This year, the booth's birthday will pass more quietly, but what a difference 26 years makes! During its 1974-75 fiscal year, the Theatre Development Fund's Discount Theatre Booth, called TKTS for short, sold 450,932 half-price tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, returning $2,030,715 to producers. That works out to $4.50 per ticket, meaning an average full price ticket went for about $9.
TDF spokesman David LeShay said the fund expected to finish the current season with 1.75 million tickets sold, totaling more than $60 million (up more than $6 million from 1997-98). Thirteen percent of all tickets sold to Broadway were done via TKTS. Over the years, the booth has generated more than $735 million in sales of 36.5 million ducats. Most discounts are still 50 percent, but some of the more popular shows offer only 25 percent mark-downs.
Some things, however, do not change. Then, as now, the most popular TKTS shows were musicals. The hot sellers in '73-'74 were Raisin and Candide; Off-Broadway, Godspell was a favorite. (The records for the booth's first fiscal year, 1973-1974, were not available.) The first booth consisted of a construction trailer, lent by New York City, with a wall cut out and four box-office windows installed to service the public. As crowds began overflowing, four more windows were added.
Soon other cities wanted to replicate the TKTS Booth in their own neighborhood. So TDF set up a special "national services" division to help other not-for-profit performing arts service agencies develop their own booth. Using TKTS as a model, TDF helped set up booths first in Boston (BOSTIX), then in Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Denver; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Toronto; London and Sydney.
The New York TKTS Booth sells tickets every day -- even through Hurricane Gloria and the blizzard of 1996. In 1988 as work started on a new facility, TKTS moved temporarily to the south corner of Duffy Square (46th Street), but the selling of tickets never stopped. (There is also a TKTS booth on the mezzanine level of 2 World Trade Center that operates Monday through Saturday.)
Today, 15 sellers and 12 messengers keep the discounted tickets flowing. Every day, after theatres have exhausted all means of selling tickets at their box offices, they contact the booth via phone or computer (TKTS is 90 percent computerized) to tell them if their show has seats. On a busy Saturday, TKTS can sell 10,000 tickets.
Not that the booth will always stay the same. NYC 2000 and Theatre Development Fund have challenged architects around the world to come up with a new look and a more efficient layout for the famous discount booth. Dubbed "tkts2k," the competition is open to "architects, landscape designers and graphic designers."
TDF Chairman John F. Breglio said in a statement, "The booth and its integrated signage needs to be redesigned to reflect the needs of both the public and the architectural landscape of Times Square." Breglio hoped for a design that "thoroughly reinvents or reinterprets" the booth.
Ron Silver, who chairs the New York City Millennium Committee's NYC 2000 project, praised "tkts" for "keeping many shows alive" and conveyed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's support for redesigning the booth, which is owned and operated by TDF.
Designers entering the competition need to pay a $50 registration fee and submit their work by Oct. 14, 1999. Results will be announced in December 1999 as part of the New York City Millennium celebration. For information on registration, call the Van Alen Institute, which is coordinating the contest. Their number is (212) 924-7000 (ext. 18) or check out their website: http://www.vanalen.org.
-- By David Lefkowitz & Robert Simonson