Examining the etiquette of waiting in line to enter a Broadway theatre.

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This week's question comes from Debra Banerjee of Scarsdale, NY.

Question: What is the etiquette? Do ticket holders have to stand on line to get into the theatre or can one just go up to the ticket taker, bypassing all the good citizens who have lined up outside?

Answer: The short answer: No butting on Broadway. If a ticket-holder line has formed, ticket holders should stand in that line, says Joann Swanson, the house manager at the Lyceum Theatre for the last eight years, who was filling in at The Phantom of the Opera's Majestic Theatre when spoke to her last week. Still, has always been puzzled by these huge lines that crop up so early before show time. Phantom's notorious line typically begins at 7 PM. Remember that these are ticket holders — the will call line, for picking up tickets, is a totally separate line. Note that tickets holders already have assigned seats. And the doors don't even open until 7:30 PM! ("If it's extraordinarily hot or extraordinarily cold, any kind of extreme weather, we try to get it open sooner," Swanson says.)

Some early arrivers who refuse to be herded behind the velvet ropes might simply mill around right outside the front doors and then jump into the actual line when it's short enough to satisfy them. The problem is that the sidewalk can get pretty tight, especially at Phantom, where there's actually two lines — one jutting up 44th Street and another snaking around the corner and up Eighth Avenue. "There's not really a place to stand that would be out of the way, other than far away from the front doors," Swanson says.

Certain theatres — such as the New Amsterdam (Mary Poppins) and the Imperial (the upcoming August: Osage County) — have large entryways where ticket holders can stand, so the lines don't tend to trail down the sidewalk like they do at other venues.

The pre-show lines tend to be longer at larger theatres housing big musicals. Swanson notes that the Lyceum — a small, 900-seat house usually reserved for plays — rarely ever has a line at all, especially since the theatre has a small lobby where ticket holders can hang out before they're let in. But a line could crop up for particularly popular shows, such as the Lyceum's last tenant, Inherit the WindBrian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer fans would start lining up at 7:15.

One might wonder why people don't simply wait until 7:45 PM to show up. Or, if you have to buy or pick up tickets and you're worried about how long that's going to take, get to the ticket window by 7:30 PM and then go wander through M&M World for 20 minutes. But don't get too hypnotized by the multi-colored towers of chocolatey goodness. When you get back at 7:50 PM, the line might still be there, leaving you little time to get to your seat and go to the restroom and do whatever else you have to do. After all, getting 1,600 people into a theatre in half an hour leaves only 1.125 seconds per person — a tall order, even with multiple entryways. "We still have people coming in and having their tickets scanned at two minutes after [8 PM] — the tail end of the line," says Swanson.

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