NEW YORK -- Hundreds of tourists and New Yorkers show up each day at the famed TKTS booth in the heart of Times Square with questions about Broadway shows. Often they’re very interesting questions.
Like: “Can I get a ticket to see the Superman musical?” Or, “Are there seats available for The Comedy of Edward Foote?” And, “What about Cats? We really want to see Cats.”
To which the answers are: “You probably mean Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and, yes, tickets are available.” Or, “Might you be actually referring to The Mystery of Edwin Drood?” And finally, “No, sorry, Cats closed in 2000.”
The people patiently doing the answering are part of a carefully assembled group of professionals who wear red jackets or T-shirts with the TKTS logo and the printed slogan “Got questions?”
They help visitors navigate the choices as they wait on line for same-day discount Broadway and off-Broadway tickets at the Times Square TKTS booth, which this week celebrates its 40th birthday.
It is at the booth where Broadway shows can be more affordable for those who balk at prices pushing past $300 a seat for some shows. Thirty percent of the people who line up here are first-time Broadway theatergoers.
“This is the place where theater is staying accessible to people who are on some sort of budget,” Victoria Bailey, executive director of the nonprofit Theatre Development Fund, which runs the booth, said recently on a glorious afternoon in a crowded Times Square.
Thousands of tickets will be sold this day as each of the city’s theater box offices calculates how many full-price tickets it can sell and then sends the rest to the booth. The theater gets all the ticket revenue and TDF gets a $4 service fee.
Some 58.5 million tickets have been sold from the booth during its 40 years, and it remains a draw even in middle-age. Despite online rivals and the rise of premium ticket pricing, lining up at the booth is as fundamental to being in the city as cooing over the Statue of Liberty.
“This is what we do as New Yorkers,” said Betsy Paquelet Patrick, who was on line to get 40-percent-off tickets for Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella with her two daughters, Sophie, 9, and Maggie, 7. “When we have a half-day at school on Wednesday, we run down here and get tickets to whatever we can see.”
The booth was an experiment that stuck. It opened for business on June 25, 1973, housed in a trailer with four windows. The current $19 million glass-enclosed booth under a red glass staircase opened in 2008 with 12 windows – one of which offers full-price tickets to future shows.
Visitors make their picks from a list of shows on continually updating electronic boards. Tickets to mega-hits like The Book of Mormon and Lucky Guy won’t appear since they don’t need to offer discounts, but there are usually plenty of options. The advice is to be flexible – have two or three possible shows by the time you get to the window.
On this day, the booth had 50 percent discounts to matinees of Ann, Chicago, Mamma Mia!, The Assembled Parties, The Phantom of the Opera, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and Jersey Boys. You could see The Nance for 40 percent off and The Trip to Bountiful for a 30 percent discount.