So, you want to go see a Broadway show but you can't afford the top ticket prices? Stick with me — I've been around the Broadway block.
As a college student, I'm always looking for discounts. As a result of my quest for cheap seats, I haven't paid more than $65 for a single Broadway show. Once in awhile I'll use a discount code, but usually I'll go a different route — either rush or lottery.
In fact, in the 2009-2010 season alone, I've entered 11 lotteries and done student rush for six other shows. Most recently, I scored a ticket to Rock of Ages for just $26.50 through lottery and snatched a student rush ticket to The Addams Family. And although I'm a student, with access to student discounts at many venues, I actually prefer entering a lottery; there's a certain suspense factor that gives you the thrill of possibly being a winner, and prices are usually lower than student rush.
If you're a lottery novice, you'll have questions: Is participation in the lottery drawing free? What do I need to do? How many tickets can I get? Can everyone I'm with enter? Can I enter more than once? How long does the process take?
First off, unlike student rush, which is designated for high school and college students, lotteries are open to anyone (with the exception of American Idiot, which makes its lottery available only to students). In the case of lottery, the show determines seating location for the winning entries. With certain productions, such as West Side Story, American Idiot, Wicked and Million Dollar Quartet, lottery locations are within the first two rows of the orchestra. With other shows, lottery availability and seat location may vary day by day.
But no matter what the seat location, through lotteries you can see a Broadway show for less than the cost of a movie ticket, popcorn, soda and a box of Junior Mints.
The most important aspect of the experience: It's free to enter. All you have to do is show up at the box office (or designated spot) at the scheduled time to write down your name and how many tickets you want (either one or two). Winners are almost always drawn 30 minutes after entries start being accepted. Duplicate entries are not allowed. However, each person in your party is allowed to enter the lottery for the chance to win up to two tickets.
A half an hour after turning your name in, entries are drawn at random for the chance to win one or two of the available tickets (the number differs per show, but many offer about 25). You you must be present at the time of the drawing to win. All lotteries are cash only, and range in price from $20-$35 per ticket, depending on the individual show. All winners must have a valid photo ID.
In November 2009, my friend Olivia and I decided to attempt the Hair lottery. Olivia had never entered a lottery, so I showed her the ropes.
We arrived at the Hirschfeld right around 5:30 PM to put our names in the bucket for the 8 PM show. While we waited for the 6 PM drawing to roll around, we chatted with a few other people who were also entering the lottery.
"There are always good people out here and it's always a fun time," said Skyler Courreges, a recent graduate of the American Musical & Dramatic Academy, who has played the lottery several times with her friend Elisha. They often see several of the same people at the lottery. "I'm pretty sure the people running the lottery know who we are," Courreges said, laughing. At 6 PM, it was time to draw names. Cassie Foote, an intern with Jujamcyn Theatres, was running the lottery that day. She told me, "It's my first time running the lottery. For me it's more about keeping people in line!" She described the lottery process as: "$25 cash. Easy, simple, affordable, good seats and a good time."
That night, everyone who entered the lottery got tickets. Now, this doesn't always happen. In fact, it's rare. I entered my first ticket lottery back when I was still in high school, four years ago at Wicked, and I have never seen this happen.
Here's a tip: If you enter with a friend, find another pair of people, and team up with them. That way, if you and your friend win, you can give your spare tickets to the other two people, or vice versa. Olivia and I paired up with Skyler and Elisha, but luck was on our side and Olivia, Skyler and Elisha all won. If you win more than you need, offer them up to someone else in the crowd or tell whoever's drawing names to draw again — it's only polite!
However, it's not always going to be a jolly holiday. You won't always win a lottery. Popular shows such as Wicked will often draw crowds of over 200 people per lottery. I'm not exaggerating. One time I showed up to enter the Wicked lottery and the line stretched around the block.
Lotteries happen year-round, and with that comes the reality of weather. The offers still go on in the snow, the bitter cold, or a rainstorm, even though many are held outside. Often, days like these are the best to enter lotteries, as competition is not as stiff. Who would be crazy enough to stand out in the elements just for the possibility of winning a cheap ticket to a Broadway show?
Call me crazy, but I've had a lot of fun huddling with other passionate show geeks and snagging a ticket to both Ragtime and Rock of Ages in below-freezing temperatures; losing the Next to Normal lottery with my friends in the pouring rain; and entering the Wicked lottery with my mother just two days after a major snowstorm in December.
Don't be afraid to make a return visit. There's no limit on how often you can enter (beyond the limit of one entry per performance). I've entered the Wicked lottery at least a half a dozen times over the years and won only twice.
If you're passionate about the lottery experience, don't settle for just one shot per evening. Many shows begin the lottery process at 5:30 PM, drawing at 6. Some, such as Next to Normal and Rock of Ages, take names starting at 6 PM and draw at 6:30 PM. This gives you the opportunity to do what I call "lottery hopping," where you attempt a second lottery if you don't win tickets on your first try.
You're also likely to see other lottery-hoppers. A popular option for those who don't win tickets to Hair at 6 PM is to go over and enter the Next to Normal lottery (the drawing is at 6:30). A few months back I tossed my name in the bucket to help my friend Ashley win tickets to Hair. Our names weren't called so we ran through the rain to the Booth Theatre to try our hand at the Next to Normal lottery, and it seemed like everyone else had the same idea. We entered, we lost, we ended up with student rush tickets to The Marvelous Wonderettes.
Whatever you do, have fun. Although seeing a show for cheap can sometimes take a bit of legwork on your part, it can happen. Sure you may have to enter more than one lottery, but even if luck isn't on your side, I guarantee that the experience alone will be worth it.
A frequently updated listing of Lottery, Rush and Standing Room policies for all Broadway shows can be found here in Playbill.com's Insider Information section.
(Playbill.com intern Allison Klamkin is a junior at Hofstra University on Long Island, where she is a print journalism major with a minor in drama. The first Broadway show she saw was The King and I starring Donna Murphy.)