Each day before the lights of the theater dim and the curtains rise, tourists, students and theater buffs overflow the TKTS booth at Times Square, to purchase a set of last-minute tickets for Broadway’s most popular performances. Their motivation: cheap tickets and decent seats.
The TKTS booth, located in Times Square, sells day-of-performance tickets, seven days a week, at discounted prices. A ticket sale can range from 20 to 50 percent off per ticket, depending on how well the show is selling on any given day. This weekend, ticket prices for Broadway’s hit musical “Sister Act” were as low as $75 per ticket for mezzanine seats, which normally sell at $164.50 online as well as at the theater. Tickets to see “Billy Elliot” were also discounted at $75 per ticket at the TKTS booth.
Throughout the week thousands of customers stand in line to purchase Broadway tickets, according to the TKTS website. The daily average of the number of people who visit the TKTS booth in Times Square to purchase theater tickets reaches hundreds. A majority of customers are tourists, along with savvy New Yorker’s, who cannot seem to get enough of the Broadway experience.
Customers can refer to the identical electronic columns, located beside the ticket windows, that list each matinee, or they can speak to a street promoter for a given show who is hired to offer an “honest” suggestion.
For those who are less familiar with the theater or with purchasing tickets on the street, the promoters stationed outside of the TKTS windows appear as blessings in disguise. They seem to know which shows are in high demand, which shows to avoid, and more important, which shows they need to promote in order to meet their daily quota.
Many of the men and women promoters are no strangers to the theater industry. In fact, a majority are actors and actresses, who need a little extra cash each month to make ends meet, when they are between jobs or tackling the auditioning process. Paul Teal, for instance, has been working as a promoter for nearly three years. “I went away to do a TV show for a while then I came back to promoting. This is how I pay the bills,” he said one day last week.
Teal works for a promotions company called “Flyer Boys.” He says the base salary starts at $12 an hour and can reach $15. Each day, the promoters are given a list of shows they are responsible for promoting, usually numbering from 10 to 16.
A Canadian couple in their early thirties stands in the TKTS line ready to purchase two tickets to the Broadway musical “Sister Act.” The husband, who was unwilling to provide his name, said, “We decided to take a trip to New York to see a bunch of Broadway plays. I think those people who stand by the show listings are really helpful. My wife and I had no clue what to see until a guy told us what was popular right now.” This would be the third show they would attend in a week, and they planned to see at least two more.
Teal said repeat customers are common. “I’ll see the same people here four days in a row. There are people who come for a Broadway trip, and it’s my job to recommend something good,” he said. Since it is nearly impossible for Teal to see all of the Broadway shows he promotes (because the list is both extensive and constantly changing), he tries to stay up-to-date with the reviews. But if all else fails, Teal relies on his own theatrical appetite and steers people towards shows of the sort he’d like to be cast in, and that are on his promotion list.
“We don’t mind that they [the promoters] stand here and tell people what to see,” said a security guard in charge of crowd patrol outside of the TKTS booth. “They don’t work for the company but I don’t think the people buying the tickets know that,” he said. ”The important thing is that they are buying the tickets.”
“Broadway adapts to the economy and change in the market,” said Teal. They lower ticket prices for those unable to pay full price for seats, and bring in celebrities to increase sales and offset the losses in full price ticket sales. “I wouldn’t say Broadway is dying because when sales get low, they hire a bunch of celebrities to come in and do a few shows. They [celebrities] always have a big agenda and they make the big money too,” said Teal as he scanned the crowd of people gathered outside of the booth.
Michael Dueling is another promoter who stands beside the show listings column next to the ticket booth with dozens of performance pamphlets in hand; ready to assist any customer who has a question about a particular show. Dueling is referred to as the “expert” among his colleagues, because he has worked as a promoter for several years and is able to persuade almost anyone to see a play on his list. “My opinion can be easily bought,” he says. “My job is to convince a customer that a show is good enough for them to see.”