Being young and/or broke in New York is no picnic. Whether you're still in school, just starting out, or simply trying to manage a budget with limited means, it can be tough to make the choice between eating three square meals and working down that checklist of Broadway shows still to be seen. Many of us know this dilemma first hand; still others of us have walked past a midtown theatre with a line of rush hopefuls down the block — or, as pedestrians, had to swerve out into the street to avoid a massive crowd of lottery ticket-seekers. From my own rush and lottery experiences — and those of a group of avid rush- and lottery-goers I had a chance to survey — I hope to provide a guide to making your rush or lotto experience go as smoothly as possible.
For those unaware of the same-day ticket phenomenon, a brief explanation is in order. As a means of providing day-of tickets to theatregoers, many (but not all) Broadway shows choose to offer rush tickets — either for students, or for anyone, depending on the show — or hold lottery drawings for a limited number of seats. Sometimes, the seats are located in prime spots in the first two rows; other times the tickets are in less ideal or even partial view spots that the box office might otherwise have a tough time selling.
No matter the location, the tickets play an essential role in many budget-conscious theatregoers' routines — and can provide a word-of-mouth boon to shows by igniting a show's fan base, especially in the current age of social media. Though some complain of higher rush and lottery ticket prices, which have gradually risen over the years (some are now as high as $47), George Strus expresses nothing but gratitude. "It's hard to complain," he said, "when the person sitting three rows in front of you paid $70 more."
The now-established trend of rushes and lotteries on Broadway began with Rent in 1996, which inspired such a craze amongst young theatregoers that fans, who dubbed themselves "Rentheads" would begin lining up, sometimes starting the night before a performance, for the show's $20 rush tickets (eventually the show switched to a lottery to discourage fans from sleeping in front of the theatre).
Some, like Rentheads often did, rush the same show over and over again. Another frequent rusher has seen the current revival of Pippin, which he describes as his "downfall," over 50 times thanks to its rush policy. "It's never the same show twice," he said, and he's willing to endure a long wait to see the show on a budget. He's waited as long as 12 hours to attend the show's last performance with its original cast — and for Tony winner Andrea Martin's final performance. Most, though, take advantage of these inexpensive ticket options to see as many of the current Broadway offerings as possible, or use their rush and lotto wiles to impress friends and family from out of town who would otherwise struggle to find inexpensive tickets.
On the less positive side of the spectrum, there are line faux pas that frequent rushers often have to learn to live with, the most prominent being notoriously pesky line-cutters — or those who hold places in line for friends who arrive hours into the rush experience. The unwritten laws of rush prohibit line-cutting and saving spots. If you notice that someone else is violating the "rules," a gentle reminder to a fellow rushers is sometimes all it takes. You can report line-cutters or spot-savers to box office personnel if they're around, but it's not a surefire bet. While some shows keep a close eye on student rushes, oftentimes lines begin forming hours before theatre employees have even arrived on the scene. In the end, some rushers inevitably take advantage of the system.
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