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I love New York. There are many, many reasons for this, but one of the biggest is because I’m kind of a theatre nerd (<-notice how I automatically spell theatre the silly British way with the RE instead of ER, heyooo!) and I also adore musicals. So, naturally one of the reasons I love New York, is for BROADWAY!
Breakfast at Tiffany's on Brooadway

Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Cort Theatre in NYC! We got tickets for the March 4 show, first night of previews!

In the few trips I’ve made to NYC, I’ve seen a handful of Broadway shows–both plays and musicals–and have managed to land some killer seats (like, 2nd or 3rd row) to Tony award-winning shows without paying more than $35 for a ticket.
So how did I find affordable tickets for hit Broadway shows? The ticket lottery.

What is the ticket lottery?

Basically, when a show is selling tickets, it may have a number of seats reserved for people who don’t want them–often they’re comped tickets for big sponsors or similar. If those people don’t want their seats for that performance, those seats are available for the lottery. Usually they are within the first three rows of a theatre.

How does the ticket lottery work?

This somewhat varies from show to show, and one way to find out if the show of your choice offers a lottery is to check the show’s website. Generally, though, it works like this:

You go to the theatre 2-2.5 hours before showtime. There’s a 30 minute window during which you fill out a little card with your name, number of tickets you want (1 or 2 max) and your phone number (be sure it’s current! If you don’t get picked or someone cheats, they sometimes will redraw and you might get lucky). Then, 2 hours before curtain, they draw a winner out of their hat/box/coffin/whatever and you can buy the tickets for that day’s show at a SERIOUSLY DISCOUNTED PRICE. Like, seriously discounted.

For example, I saw In the Heights when Corbin Bleu (yes, of High School Musical fame, and no I didn’t actually know who he was anyway) was in it back in 2010. I sat 2nd row and I think paid like $20 for my ticket.

Granted, there are a few cons to this process, the biggest being that you might not win. I’ve had some good luck and saw ITH, as well as the revival of West Side Story within the span of a couple weeks. (My cousin, on the other hand, had a fabulous track record for winning these things and managed to get tickets for almost a dozen shows!)

West Side Story on Broadway

I snagged some lottery tickets to this revival of one of my favorites, West Side Story, back in 2010. I was so excited the photo came out blurry 🙂

Other things to keep in mind are that you should be present to win (although this may vary by theatre) and that not all shows even have it. So, again, do check before giving it a shot.

If you have friends in NYC willing to come with you to try to win the lottery, you’ll have a better chance of getting tickets. I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate to say that the more people in your party able to put their names in, the higher your odds. This past March when I was there, a group of people all came to put their names in to try to help their buddy in from Alabama could get a ticket to the Book of Mormon. That’s friendship for you.

Plus, there’s something to be said about the fun in it, win or lose.

I like the vibe of people all congregating together to try to earn something that is all chance. It gives people a fleeting sense of community, especially with the strong likelihood that you’re all going to be disappointed together.
At the Eugene O’Neill Theatre where Book of Mormon is playing, even the lottery announcements are entertaining. The lottery dude encouraged us to vocalize our excitement if we won the tickets. “Pretend like you won something,” he said. This would keep things exciting, and also make the ticket losers feel better in some way about who got the tickets. “At least THAT guy was worthy of the honor,” we’d think.

Other ways to find cheap tickets for Broadway shows

The lottery is not the only way to get cheap tickets, although it’s generally the only way I’ve done it. You can also try standing room only tickets, which requires lining up pretty early at the theatre to try to snag some standing room spots.

Sometimes, getting rush tickets will get you a pretty hefty discount, and that’s generally for same-day performances.

Another popular method is to check out TKTS stands–the most popular one is in Times Square–to get half-off show tickets. That service is provided by the Theatre Development Fund!

A good resource is BroadwayForBrokePeople.com, which gives up-to-date info on which shows currently running have rush seating or lotteries, along with their ticket prices.

Or, if you’re lucky, you might encounter a very generous individual needing to get rid of their tickets who will give them to your cousin who will invite you to see the first night of previews to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Emilia Clarke, who is fabulously layered and complex as Holly Golightly (you may know her as Daenarys Targaryen on Game of Thrones), which all makes for an unforgettable theatre-going experience. I can’t give any tips for how to make that happen, though, other than making a libation to the muses and hoping for the best.

Have fun on the Great White Way! And if you’re wondering, there ARE $32 general rush tickets available to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s!

Have you ever been to a Broadway show? Do you have any tips for getting tickets?