Six Ways to See New York Theatre for Less!

We are in New York for almost nine months Sept 2016 - June 2017. This will be the first of a series of New York related posts. Hope you enjoy following along...

Anyone who knows me has listened to me complaining about the cost of theatre tickets in New York. It's amazing how impassioned and indignant I can get about this. Maybe it's being British I'm spoilt by cheap seats at the wonderful National Theatre in London - where we saw Ralph Fiennes in George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman in the orchestra for  $20 last year! Or maybe I'm just a cheapskate? 

I like to go to the theatre frequently, ideally several times a month or even weekly, and  that means I'm not going to spend $100-150 per ticket. The prices on Broadway seem to be going up and up and the new model seems to be that theatre is now a "special occasion" event. Technology has changed the ticketing business and we've all had to endure dynamic pricing which has come from the airline industry. When a show, or a particular evening is in high demand, suddenly you can only find "premium seats". I get that the "premium" section expands and contracts based on demand and I understand that producers want to get as much as possible from the audience, but what does  "premium" means when it's almost all the entire orchestra? 

Hamilton has set a new bar for ticket prices and, as the New York Times reported in June, top tickets will now cost $849 when purchased directly from the box office. Perhaps this is the first all "premium" show? Their argument is that the producers, not the scalpers, should be profiting from the success of the show and this seems to have merit. But it's fatuous of them to argue that they are powerless to shut the scalpers down, clearly they could limit the secondary market by checking ids at the box office as they do for lottery ticket holders. As I see it they've benefitted from the scalpers driving up the price to the point that the public will pay $1,000 for a tickets.

Well, I'm not having any of that! At that price  I'm not their audience and I'm sure they don't care! My real problem is I like a good seat and I  want to go to the theatre frequently - my standards are high but my purse is small. What's a girl to do,  especially when she doesn't want to wait in line for day seats? The last time I did that I was thrilled right up until I realized I couldn't see half the stage at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. What a disaster, lets just say I couldn't even see the dog in the opening scene which was  visually missing the plot entirely! Well here are my recommendations and suggestions for getting finding a good good deal on theatre tickets in New York without waiting for hours in the cold. Lets start with what to see...

This is 42nd St. which cuts right across Manhattan and though the famous theatre district.

So What to See?

I recommend the theatre page of the New York Times  (make sure to read the comments) and the relatively new which aggregates critic and audience reviews with lots of commentary. I particularly like their "Don't see it if..." section.  I'm greatly influenced by whatever the New York Times identify as a Critics Pick and we've found them to be  reliable. I rarely see musicals and I confess I don't pay a lot of attention to the Tony's.  We saw last year's big drama winner The Humans and weren't greatly impressed, we far preferred the Atlantic Theatre Company's Skeleton Crew.

For us a key component of theatre in New York is to look beyond Broadway to Off Broadway productions including The Public Theatre, The Culture Project, New York Theatre Workshopthe Flea, Ars Nova, Theatrelab, La Mama, The Irish Rep, The Atlantic Theatre and various companies that show at the Signature Theatre venue.

But how to get a good deal on tickets...? 

1. The Half Price Tkts Booth 
Day seats and student seats  are some of the effective  techniques we've all used to get cheap tickets. Though I'm either too lazy or too old standbys for most of these however, it's worth noting that the  Tkts Booth has satellite locations in Brooklyn, South Street Seaport and a newly opened spot at Lincoln Center. These are great alternatives for those of us who hate crowds, waiting in line and/or their original location in Time Square! Conveniently they now offer a live feed from their electronic boards so you can see exactly what's available. Some people recommend showing up in the late afternoon as last minute tickets are released.

2. Previews  
It's obvious, but shows are a lot cheaper in preview and while you may be taking a chance that's often not the case with productions that have transferred from elsewhere. We've seen several great London show in preview in New York. After reading the London reviews we knew Jerusalem and  History Boys were going to be smash hits so there was no risk booking a preview performance. Ivan van de Hove's recent production of View from a Bridge also offered  an excellent discount on stage seats during the preview. It was one of the most affecting nights of theatre I remember and our front row  stage seats were well worth $50.

3. Online Lotteries 

Make technology work for you! While old fashioned  "in person" lotteries for day seats exist, many are now offering  daily electronic lotteries including the aforementioned "hottest show on Broadway", Hamilton which now offers 46 front row seats  for $10 daily in a lottery run by Broadway Direct. If you fancy your chances click here and I wish you good luck - I've entered multiple times but it has eluded me so far! 
On our last trip to New York I was hoping to see Clive Owen in Harold Pinter's Old Times but I wasn't prepared to pay over $100 for a show that ran just over one hour. Luckily the show had an electronic lottery on Today Tix which we won and we saw it for $19.96. We also saw Fun Home for $35, which was far more palatable than the retail price! To take this approach you need to be  persistent, flexible and either local or lucky. I've won several  but I often enter multiple lotteries daily. Many shows and companies, including the Public Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club and the Roundabout, use TodayTix for their lotteries and I highly recommend downloading the app. 

4. TodayTix App & Goldstar 

The TodayTix app is worth checking out even if  you aren't feeling lucky as they also offer discounted tickets to a large number of shows, though you should pay attention to their fees which like Telecharge can run past $10 per ticket. You buy your ticket online and meet the TodayTix person outside the theatre. We found it worked well but it may not work for you if you have to have an aisle seat as you won't know the exact seat number until you pick up the tickets. 
Along with TodayTix it's worth keeping an eye on Goldstar  who offer discounted tickets for a number of New York shows. They also offer a rotating number of complimentary events with the small service charge waved for members. It's been worthwhile for us and we've been on a boat trip, a Street Art Walking Tour of Bushwick in Brooklyn, to several Off Broadway shows and even at a concert at Carnegie Hall (above) all for free! 
Caveat: As always do be careful about the sites you use, many of those touting "discounted tickets" are selling more expensive tickets theatre on the secondary market and should be avoided.
5. TDF Become a Member 
I use all the techniques above but these days I buy most of my theatre tickets from  the Theatre Development Fund at These are the people who run the Tkts half price ticket booth but you can also become a member.  Having joined you qualify to buy tickets in advance for a wide variety of shows. Tdf ticket prices range from $9 for Off Off Broadway, to $28 for Off Broadway plays and  max out at $47 for a Broadway musical like the Color Purple which is currently available. You won't find blockbuster shows like Book of Mormon, Wicked or Hamilton but it helps to check regularly and you find interesting availability mid week or at the  very beginning or end of runs.It works wonderfully for people like us who go to a lot of theatre and are interested in Off Broadway offerings. Like TodayTix and Goldstar you don't get your seat number in advance but overall we've had excellent seats and have been happy with the incredible value they provide.
You can see if you're eligible for membership here; students, teachers, retirees, freelancers, arts professionals and others can join. You're required to submit proof of eligibility and pay a $30 membership fee, reduced to $12 for out-of-towners. Another advantage of the Tdf program are very low ticketing fees of $4.
Flexibility - You have to be flexible and persistent to take this approach. It doesn't work if you HAVE to see something. In fact I'd argue that  this kind of "all or nothing" approach is what has led to the $1,000 tickets for Hamilton. As someone who goes to a great deal of theatre there are lots of things I'd like to see, but rarely something I can't miss. You just need to be patient, if you can wait you'll be able to see that blockbuster show it's just a matter of time. I wanted to see The Humans when it was Off -Broadway last year but there were very few tickets available, what was left were inferior seats at well over $100. I passed though I very much wanted to see the show. It has since transferred to Broadway and we saw it with for $41 - short story, I'm glad I waited.

6. Find a Code 
You're only in town for a couple of days, you can't be flexible and you want to see one show in particular. Is there anything you can do, what's the last resort? Well I'd recommend trying to find a Telecharge discount code for the show you've selected. Check whether you can find any promotional codes at if you know what you want to see this may be the only way to go.
Hope you have a great time whatever you choose to see. There's something magical about watching actors invoke a world on stage for us night after night. I have no artistic talent but I'm a good audience and it's a role I relish,  it's a joy to be in New York with all of this out there for us all to go out and see something unexpected!