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When in New York City you might have the urge to go see some theatre. How can you not want to with all those beautiful billboards screaming at you?! Mamma Mia! The Lion King! There is really something for everyone. Even if you’re not a traditional musical or theatre fan I bet I could find something to appeal to pretty much anybody.

Here are some tips to help you save your pennies so maybe you can pack in more than one on your trip to New York City.

Musical and Theatre Lotteries

How they work

Generally a lottery allows you to put your name in the running for an allotment of tickets that are significantly reduced. The number of tickets available change daily depending on how many seats are left for that day's show. Lottery winners are awarded a double pass but if you’re attending on your own, which is also common, you can often indicate that you only need one ticket at the time of entering your name.

The lotteries usually open two to three hours before a show, there is a half hour to an hour period where people can enter their names and then once the time is up they will draw the winner. For in-person lotteries you have to be there to accept your ticket and for the online version you’re usually given a set period of time to accept and purchase the tickets before it’s offered to someone else.

For shows that have an evening and matinee performance, there will be two times that you can register. A lot of lotteries, like The Book of Mormon, also offer amazing seats for lottery winners, often front row.

Visit Broadway For Broke People for advice on which websites and apps you need for a particular digital lottery or what time the in-person lottery opens.

Digital lotteries

This is the lazy man’s lottery. You can log in each morning, register for whichever shows you’re interested in seeing and then go about your morning until you get notified a couple hours before the show whether you've won or not.

Before you arrive you can start downloading some of these apps to get an idea for what shows are available for online lotteries. Most of the digital lotteries seem to be accessible on the TodayTix app.

In-person lotteries

Visiting one of the in-person lotteries is an experience you should try at least once! There is a great atmosphere amongst all the other theatre goers and it’s like gambling but it doesn’t cost anything, unless you win of course but then it’s like a nice present to yourself.

There are several very popular in-person lotteries, one of which is The Book of Mormon. There are often 200 entries in this lottery. The guy who runs the lottery turns the experience into an event and even has his own Twitter account. Follow him at @lotterydude. Check out this video for an idea of what to expect during a Book of Mormon lottery.

You can either time it so that you arrive just before the lottery closes to put your name in (be careful!) or arrive while it’s open and then grab some lunch or a drink while you wait. I enjoyed taking the opportunity to explore some new bars and eateries while excitedly waiting for the lottery to close.

Rush and Standing Room Only (SRO) Tickets

Rush tickets are for the early birds. These are an unspecified allotment of tickets that are sold from when the box office opens in the morning (usually 9 or 10 am). For the more popular shows you can expect a wait time so try to get there long before the box office opens. Some theatres restrict these tickets to students only so make sure to bring along any valid student ID.

The very cheapest option, SRO tickets, are for numbered spaces that are the width of a regular seat, usually located at the back of the orchestra. Unlike the lotteries, only one SRO ticket is sold per person. These can be quite uncomfortable and definitely only for the young and young at heart!

HipTix

Hiptix is Roundabout Theatre's low-price ticket program for 18–35 year olds. It's free to join and gets you $25 tickets to all Roundabout shows.

You should buy tickets in advance as they only reserve 10-40 tickets for each performance and once they’re gone then you’re out of luck.

Check out their website for information on upcoming shows and it definitely doesn’t hurt to register for Hiptix in advance and see if there is anything that you’d like to see.

Other tips

  1. It might help to first put together a list of the top 10 shows that you definitely want to see to help you with prioritising. For a comprehensive look at what’s available and what’s hot right now, check out the Playbill website.
  2. Don’t be disheartened if you see a lot of people in line for the lottery. remember that everyone has equal chances of winning and you never know really. I was in New York City for one week and managed to win one lottery a day and I would never consider myself to be a lucky person! You just have to be in it to win it and also a little bit flexible.
  3. Traveling with someone else? Put both of your names in! Download the app on your companions phone and register both of you so you’re both in for a chance of winning. Likewise with the in-person lotteries, you’re encouraged to both put your name in. On my second try at The Book of Mormon my friend and I both actually won!
  4. If you’re on your own, try to look for other solo theatregoers and enter the lottery together. So instead of just having one chance at winning you can have two. This is pretty common practice so don’t be shy, strike up a conversation!
  5. Many theatres only accept cash for these specially priced tickets. Make sure to bring enough just incase. Also don’t forget your student ID if you’re entering a student-only rush.
  6. If you're planning to be out all day and won't have time to duck back to your hotel for a change of clothes I would suggest bringing along something a bit nicer to wear just in case you are lucky and win one of the lotteries. You often only have an hour or two before the show starts and may not want to leave and come back. Trust me, I had to go to The Book of Mormon in shorts!
  7. Didn’t make it in for a show? Try TKTS. TKTS is not as cheap as the lotteries but they are still a really good deal. Especially if you’re flexible. There are three locations, Times Square, Downtown Brooklyn and the South Street Seaport. The last two are usually not busy at all. You can visit during the day and peruse the shows that are available. The staff are also really knowledgeable about what’s on and can suggest which show you might enjoy the most. I’ve been told that tickets become available for different shows throughout the day so it doesn’t hurt to stop in again in the afternoon if you didn’t see anything you liked in the morning.
  8. At the end of the day, if you have your heart set on a particular show, depending on how much time you have you might just want to fork out the money and see it regardless. That’s ok too! No matter which way you do it you’re going to have an amazing time. 
  9. Need some more New York budget inspiration? Check out this guide on the Best of NYC on a Budget by a Native New Yorker. It includes tips on whcih museums you can visit under $5 and how to visit the abandoned City Hall subway station!

Apps to download

Websites to bookmark

  • For information on individual theatre policies for lotteries, rush and SRO tickets: Playbill.com
  • or Broadway For Broke People for a more summarised view
  • For in-depth reviews of shows: Did He Like It
  • For theatre lovers 18 to 25 years old: HipTix
  • For discounted tickets without the chance: TKTS
  • For more ideas on cheap and free things to do in NYC: The Skint