To acquire standing room tickets for a Friday 8:00 PM showing of “The Book of Mormon,” my two friends and I began standing in line at four. At 7:00 PM they would start sales for 24 tickets costing $27 each. As time passed, the line grew to around 30 people—the last six purely hopeful. Mezzanine J-L tickets, the seats right in front of where I stood, cost $69. Standing room tickets are only available when the show is sold out, but “The Book of Mormon” is sold out everyday.
Joan Wong, my “Book of Mormon” companion and a senior at Parsons The New School for Design, has watched about 30 different Broadway shows (all musicals except for two plays) and, if you count repeated shows, she’s watched 50. Ms. Wong paid full price for only one—“Lion King”. She acquires discounted tickets mostly through student or general rush and also by joining ticket lotteries and waiting for standing room tickets to sold out shows.
Student and general rush policies vary depending on the show; “Follies,” a revival that opened on Sept. 12 and due to its popularity has extended its engagement to Jan. 22, offers 30 student rush tickets ($37 a ticket) per performance. According to a box office employee, there are always “More people than tickets…Hard to gauge, about fifty per performance.” “Wicked,” which celebrates its eighth anniversary on October 30, 2011, has a lottery for 25 front row seats prior to each performance. The lottery winners pay $26.50 for seats that could cost up to $312.25 for a Saturday night showing. The “Wicked” box office employee said at least a hundred people join the lottery per performance. Ms. Wong has won the lottery for different shows about 10 -15 times. “If I had to put a percentage on it, it would be probably be 75% of the time…It’s weird.”
There may be over a hundred people at the Gershwin Theater hoping to get lucky and see “Wicked” for a steep discount, but there are also about four hundred to a thousand people waiting in line at the tkts booth everyday. Every ticket sold there is discounted at 50%, 40%, 30% or 20%. Jordan Feltner and Mark Curry, tkts representatives working at the Times Square tkts booth, said the majority of people in line are tourists. According to Mr. Feltner, he “fields a lot of questions…What are people in line for? What are people doing? Two-thirds get in line afterwards.” The general rush and lottery tickets offered by theaters are typically cheaper than the prices tkts offers. “In general, of course tourists don’t know,” Mr. Curry responded, “We do tell people. They think instead of worrying about that, maybe we’ll just stay here. They’re not that knowledgeable about how the theater system works.”
Still, the popularity of waiting for discounted tickets through rush, lottery or for standing room has grown. Ms. Wong said, “Even if they start selling when the box office opens, I used to be able to get rush tickets in the late afternoon. But now, there are lines for hours before the box office opens for almost every show that offers rush.” Her conjecture as to how people are growing aware of these opportunities is, “Word of mouth? All these discounts are still kind of a “new” thing…I mean the people who do this are usually students and young people are likely to talk more.” The “Follies” box office employee suggested, “Websites…They have their own kind of thing. I get that feeling sometimes.”
There is, in fact, a website for Broadway goers with message boards. Some of the forums discuss discount tickets for shows. The “ANYTHING GOES Rush” forum has 24 replies and 13,165 views. User ColorTheHours048 (a reference to “Spring Awakening”) posted on August 4, “Rushed this morning. Got there at 6:20 and was first in line. The line picked up steadily from 6:40 on.” The “Anything Goes” box office opens at 10:00 AM. Deciding whether or not waiting for rush tickets, joining a lottery, or hoping for standing room is worth it is a question of whether you want to save time or money.