Being a New York resident offers unique access to a number of exciting things: artichoke pizza, subway rat sightings, and some of the finest museums in the country. But my absolute favorite thing about city life is the amount and variety of live theater I’ve been able to enjoy since moving here. Unfortunately, going to the theater is a hobby that can quickly break the bank if you’re not careful. On the plus side, there are plenty of ways to see theater for very little – or absolutely free! – which you can easily take advantage of.
Visit the TKTS Booth
The classic way to get discount Broadway and off-Broadway tickets is to drop by Duffy Square and see what deals are in store under the iconic red “tier seats” of the Booth TKTS. Operated by Theater Development Funda non-profit organization dedicated to making the performing arts more accessible to everyone, the TKTS booth on the north side of Times Square sells discounted tickets for the day since 1973 (although the red steps were only built in 2008). The stand is a popular attraction in itself, so you’ll have to wait alongside crowds of tourists to get your tickets, but it’s worth it for the amazing deals: up to 50% off select shows.
The TKTS booth opens at 3 p.m. for evening sales and 11 a.m. on matinee days, and the best seats are generally available on a first-come, first-served basis (although some blocks of seats are only released closer of the start of the show, so don’t despair if you arrive late). There are currently two TKTS booths in the city, but the second location, at Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium, has yet to reopen after being temporarily closed during the pandemic.
If you’re not in the mood to wait in line, you can avoid the crowds by shopping directly from your phone. BroadwayBox is ideal for Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets, while Eventbrite often offers access to small business and student group productions (but does not necessarily offer discounts).
The most popular ticketing app, however, is TodayTix. This app lets you buy discounted and regular-priced tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows hours, days, or weeks in advance and offers a respectable range of savings, especially on shows such as Chicago Where The Phantom of the Opera that have been running for decades. TodayTix also provides helpful runtimes and taglines for its shows to help you decide what you’d like to see. As an added bonus, you can even use TodayTix to purchase emergency tickets to select shows at even cheaper prices.
Race and lottery tickets
If you’re in the mood for the old-school experience, several productions are still offering rush and lottery tickets in person. For those unfamiliar with the practice of rush a show, most Broadway theaters reserve a block of discounted seats at each performance which are released to the general public as soon as the box office opens on the day of the show. Most peak tickets can only be purchased in person, and it’s not uncommon for concertgoers to camp near the box office a few hours before sales start to secure affordable seats for on-demand shows.
Alternatively, some theaters choose to release these seats through a lottery system instead to ensure they are distributed fairly. Some lotteries are online only, while a few select shows, such as Nasty, continue to draw lottery tickets from a hat in person at the theater. Finally, if you’re really desperate, a few Broadway shows will offer deeply discounted standing room for sold-out performances. Playbill maintains a wonderfully comprehensive list of rush and lottery policies for Broadway and off broadway shows which makes getting those tickets even easier.
Sign up for discounted ticket programs
Broadway audiences have always been dominated by a wealthy white population of middle age or older: according to statistics published by the Broadway League for the 2018–19 season, only 24.7% of Broadway tickets were purchased by non-white theatergoers, while the average Broadway theatergoer was 42.3 years old and had a household income of $261,000.
In an effort to expand their audience, several Broadway and off-Broadway businesses and venues, including Manhattan Drama Club, Playwrights’ horizons, Roundabout Theater Companyand Lincoln Center Theater– have introduced discounted ticket programs for those under 35 or 40. These theaters and many others also offer discounts to currently enrolled students if they present a valid student ID when purchasing tickets at the box office.
The Theater Development Fund offers a discounted ticket program for Broadway and off-Broadway performances that is accessible to an even wider range of people. For a small annual fee, TDF Memberships are open to teachers, seniors, veterans, government employees, nonprofit workers, federally disabled people, and artists of all persuasions, as well as students and people 30 and under.
Expand beyond Broadway
In my personal experience, the best and cheapest way to have more theater in your life is to look beyond the Great White Way and explore what some of the smaller companies in the city have to offer. Many of my all-time favorite theatrical experiences have come from attending grungy new operas in repurposed Bushwick warehouses or crammed into old church basements uptown to see inventive takes on Shakespearean classics.
Although often (but not always!) lacking the huge budgets and glitzy special effects of Broadway shows, these types of companies present incredible performances on a more intimate scale than can be achieved in 500-seat houses on Broadway. . Many sell tickets in the $15-$40 range and, as a bonus, their small size makes it easier to befriend ticket workers, artists, and even art directors who may be able to match you. offer even greater discounts.
Make friends in the industry
Life in the theater is made of ties. Befriending people you meet at shows is a great way to both find new shows to go see (just check their social media or chat with them to see what they’re working on next) and also potentially to get competition tickets so you can attend their performances for free.
If you work in the industry, it’s also worth trying to connect with as many theater companies as possible. It’s common for a company to turn down an audition or screenplay you’ve submitted, but sometimes they soften the sting of rejection by adding your name to their candidate lists when paper the house for press nights.
Ultimately, live theater is not theater without an audience, and theater companies want you there as much as you want to be there. So, by all means, grab all the discounts you can while enjoying the city’s gloriously diverse and utterly unrivaled buffet of theatrical offerings.