Every fourth Wednesday of the month, the “VIP Access” column will serve up advice on how to make your theater-going experiences cheaper, easier and more fulfilling with inside scoop from the experts. For our inaugural column, let’s head to Times Square and reveal some secrets about those discount TKTS booths.
TDF, the Theatre Development Fund, may sound like some obscure government program providing affordable housing and job training to Spider-Man investors, but it’s actual your best ally in getting discounted Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets. Created in 1968 to encourage live performance and nurture audiences in New York City, TDF’s most visible outreach program is their Times Square TKTS booth (say the letters like “USA” instead of making a word out of it like “NASA”) offering unsold, same-day tickets to plays and musicals at sale prices. However, if you want to be a real insider, here are three lesser-known TDF offerings that can get you to the head of the line.
1. No Sleep Till Brooklyn: The Times Square booth has improved since its “stairway to Broadway” renovation (you can use your credit card!) but the crowds can still be daunting and trying to time your visit can interrupt your sightseeing/working day. However, there are additional and much less crowded TKTS booths at South Street Seaport and in Downtown Brooklyn. On a recent Saturday just before the Times Square booth opened for the day, there were hundreds of people already queued up for matinee tickets. In Brooklyn, there were 10 customers hanging out waiting to get tickets for that night’s evening performances. That’s right, you’ll find a shorter wait and first dibs on tickets that aren’t being sold at the main booth yet! You can also get a jump on matinee seats the day before those shows. (Do know that some producers hold back releasing tickets until later in the day but tip #2 can help with that little wrinkle.)
If you’re a tourist, it’s a no brainer. Hit the Brooklyn booth before or after a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or a visit to one of those hip, skinny-jeans-wearing neighborhoods and you’ve opened up your visit beyond Midtown Manhattan. To make it even easier or to quell those outer-borough fears, ride in the last car on the A or C train to Jay Street/Metro Tech (20 minutes from 42nd Street). Exit to the “rear” of the station and up the steps on the right. You will surface topside staring at the booth 15 feet in front of you. The angels will sing. (Check the TDF website for more details and times.)
2. App-solutely Fabulous: In December 2010, TDF released an iPhone app and it was a real game changer (almost as life altering as my addiction to the Yahtzee App, but I digress.) In days of yore, a trip to the TKTS booth was a bit of a crap shoot; you didn’t know what was going to be on the board. Now, the app offers real time updates from all three TKTS booths listing what shows are available at that moment. You can check out the board from your phone and decide whether it’s worth a trip over to buy tickets. If you’re already in line, you can use the app to research your choices instead of sending a scout back and forth to the board to see if that show you want is still up. Heroism is a quiet thing, indeed. Of course, the tickets might be gone by the time you get to the booth, but the information it provides is a huge step forward. For locals, it’s an amazing tool for shaking up your routine and seeing some great theater on a whim. Plus, it also provides summaries and listings for all the major shows and streaming content from the TDF magazine. Download the iPhone TDF app for $.99 or get the new Android version free of charge through May 15, 2011.
3. We Want You: Why just sample the pleasures of TDF when you can join in and be a member? For a yearly fee, you get online access to dozens of weekly ticket offers for theater, dance, opera and more—all at heavily discounted prices. The money you save on tickets easily offsets the fee and the wide range of offerings encourage you to be a more adventurous theatergoer. There won’t be seats for the sold-out blockbusters and there is one major catch before you can join: applicants must prove that they are full-time students, teachers, union members, retirees, civil servants, performers, staff members at a not-for-profit, members of the military or members of the clergy. Reread that list; other than Friends of Dorothy, isn’t that pretty much who goes to theater anyway? And aren’t cheap tickets to previews for the next big hit worth taking a few vows? (Black is so slimming.) Applying for membership is easy and completely worth it for frequent theater-goers.