It's been a banner season for TKTS, the discount ticket booth at Duffy Square in mid-Manhattan. Run by Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the TKTS offers 25-50 percent discounts on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on the day of performance.
As the booth reaches its 24th birthday, June 26, TDF has announced that TKTS had its best season since 1982-83. Over 1.65 million tickets were sold to performing arts events, returning over $54 million to the productions. Ticket sales were up 11 percent over 1995-96.
"This has been another year of growth for all of TDF's ticket, education, young audience development, theatre and dance subsidy programs," said soon-to-retire TDF president Thomas F. Leahy. Of all tickets (estimated) sold to Broadway shows between July 1, 1996 and June 30, 1997, 14.5 percent were distributed via the TKTS booth in midtown and the World Trade Center booth on Wall Street. The latter was founded in 1976. Only last year, TKTS took over the Bryant Park music and dance ticket booth as well.
Since 1973, TKTS has sold over 32.9 million tickets, to the tune of over $600 million.
Even so, the future of the Times Square TKTS discount ticket booth has been on the table since the afternoon of March 18, when the League of American Theatres & Producers met to debate a plan to set up their own ticket selling (and discounting) outlet in the theatre district. Producer James Freydberg told Playbill On-Line March 18 that the purpose of the meeting was to present a 75-page report on the idea to the executive committee of the League of American Theatres and Producers (the League), which promotes and, to some extent, regulates activities in the Broadway theatre district.
But Freydberg cautioned that no vote was expected to be taken on the idea, which has been in development for some months. Freydberg expressed anger at the tone of press coverage since the story about the plan broke in the New York Daily News March 17. "Remarks that producers are doing this out of some sense of greed is one of the most absurd, outrageous, offensive . . . and disgraceful remarks I've ever heard," he said. "It's exactly the opposite. The booth was set up [in 1973] to be a last-minute place to sell tickets not sold at the box office. But it's built into something monumental. It became the place where people started to buy tickets. We're a luxury business -- why have people standing outside [on the TKTS lines] in the rain? A group of us decided to sit down and figure out a more convenient way to do it -- and to include TDF if at all possible."
TDF spokesperson David LeShay told Playbill On-Line (June 19) that there's been nothing to report on the situation since that time. "But things are calm here," he said.
The League reportedly is looking at indoor facilities in the Times Square area near the existing booth at Broadway and 47th Street.
TDF spokespersons have expressed the fear that the League will close the booth and offer less generous discounts. TDF is a non-profit organization that uses the $2.50-per-ticket surcharge on all discount tix to fund educational programs, dance and playwriting subsidies, and efforts to make theatre more accessible to lower income and physically challenged audiences.
"There will be no attempt whatsoever to eliminate discounting of tickets," Freydberg said.
A story in the New York Daily News quoted from a letter by Theatre Development Fund Chairman (TDF) David Holbrook, sent to the League Of American Theatres & Producers, claiming that League executive director Jed Bernstein, though a member of the TDF Board, is in serious discussion with Broadway producers to come up with a more profitable, less generous discount outlet.
In the letter excerpt printed by the News, Holbrook writes, "our dealings with the new leadership of the League are fraught with tension and even outright hostility... Jed Bernstein -- himself a member of the TDF Board of Directors -- [is] now focused on establishing and promoting a new discount ticket office in the Times Square neighborhood in direct competition with TKTS. We understand it is Mr. Bernstein's expressed hope that this new enterprise will ultimately replace TKTS."
For his part, Bernstein replied in a statement that TDF had "misinterpreted normal, ongoing business discussions as plans. The league conducts discussions exploring many ideas about future ticket-selling and distribution." Bernstein wrote that if any of these discussions were formalized into an actual plan, TDF "would be an important partner to consult."
According to the New York Post, the new plan would offer an indoor facility rather than the all-weather long lines on 47th Street, and would offer an even greater variety of discounting strategies than the 25 or 50 percent off currently given by TKTS.
Gilberto Zaldivar, a member of the TDF Board of Directors and producer/co-founder of Off-Broadway's Repertorio Espanol, told Playbill On-Line that he's "known TDF for over 30 years, and the service and contribution they make in general is tremendous. They have worked very hard to get where they are, including outgoing president Thomas Leahy."
Although Repertorio shows are not represented at the TKTS booth, the theatre makes heavy use of TDF's discount vouchers -- especially during the school year. "After June we don't get many redeemed vouchers, but come September, it all comes back. We have at least 16,000 students benefiting from TDF. Those are big numbers. We don't deal with the League, and Equity has no authorizations over theatres in Spanish, so we don't have an Equity contract. And we do 350 performances a year."
Asked about the positives and negatives of a rival discount tickets booth in midtown Manhattan, Zaldivar said, "It doesn't make sense. In this moment of retrenching and downsizing, I don't see why another service would come along and fulfill a service already done very well by TDF. How could they do more with less?"
In an official statement faxed to Playbill On-Line, March 17, the League called the TKTS controversy "a gross misimpression," implying that the League "is planning a new box office operation which would end the availability of discount tickets to Broadway shows. Nothing could be further from the truth."
The statement went on to say that any ticket-selling program the League might design would only "better serve the customer with easier, more accessible distribution of tickets," including those at a discount." "Nothing other than a preliminary evaluation has taken place," continues the statement, which adds that League members will continue providing tickets to TDF's TKTS booth. "If the League should decide that any concept it is currently analyzing warrants more formal consideration, we would certainly consult with TDF. We have worked cooperatively with [TDF] in the past on many projects, and it is our intention to continue that relationship.
Freydberg said the committee studying options for the League includes Barry Weissler, Edgar Dobie, Paul Libin, Roger Berlind, Philip Smith, Herschel Waxman and Robert Wankel -- all major independent or institutional producing executives.
These are the days and times of operation for the mid-town and downtown TKTS Discount Ticket Booths in New York City:
Duffy Square (West 47th St): Mon-Fri 3-8 PM for evening performances. Wed & Sat 10 AM-2 PM for matinees only.
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.