If I told you that front-and-center orchestra seating for some of the hottest shows on Broadway were only $30 away, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But believe this: I did it, and I did it nine times in one week—and you can, too. You don’t have to be part of a secret club, or even spam your inbox with discount emails—all it really takes is an alarm clock and a basic working knowledge of the internet.
When I visited New York City last year, I thought I would be lucky to see even one show on The Great White Way, expecting most ticket prices to exceed the $150 mark. And let’s face it, New York is expensive enough without paying full price for a couple hours of an, albeit stellar, theatrical experience.
I was naïve and I made that mistake once, and as punishment, I paid $129 to listen to the Cell Block Tango from behind a pillar. But I evolved, as most living creatures must if they wish to survive the concrete jungle, and was introduced to what would change my Broadway experience forever: rush and lottery.
Now before we jump in, it’s worth noting that it will take a little determination and planning; these tricks of the trade are starting to catch on and it’s important to remain one step ahead of the game. The Broadway rush started with Rent, a wildly popular musical which still retains its legacy from the early ‘90s. Lucky theater-goers who were willing to wake up early enough and stand in line at the box office could walk away with $20 tickets for some of the best seats in the house. Twenty years later, rush has become a time-honored tradition.
Most Broadway shows, excluding usually the more popular productions, have what is known as general rush, meaning the box office has a select number of seats that are either reserved for the rush tradition or remain unsold. Rush tickets are sold almost exclusively in person at the theater’s box office on a first-come, first-served basis, and range in price, averaging anywhere between $25 and $45.
Rush is almost too good to be true, but there are is some fine print you need to know. Some shows only accept cash, so I always recommend keeping enough cash on hand in the event that cards are not accepted. Additionally, if you are traveling with more than one companion, keep in mind most box offices have issued a strict two-ticket maximum for rush, so any additional guests will need to brave the line with you, and it’s possible you will not be sitting directly next to them. It all depends on the show’s popularity: tickets for Something Rotten were far more readily available than The Color Purple, where people started to line up at 6am, a good four hours prior to the box office opening.
In my experience, I’ve concluded that, unless the show is Hamilton, there is little reason you should have to blow your travel budget on a single show. If you’re willing to get out of bed, drag yourself to the theater via one of the many conveniently placed coffee shops, you can snag seats others paid hundreds of dollars for all for the price of a pair of jeans. For a complete list of current Broadway shows formatted in a convenient spreadsheet detailing the theater address, preview date, closing date, weekly performance schedule, and cheapest ticket options tailored to each show, visit broadwayforbrokepeople.com, the unofficial holy grail of visiting Broadway on a budget.
There are shows, however, where rush is not offered, limiting, but not completely crushing your budgeting options. When rush is not available, there is usually a ticket lottery, which is essentially a glorified raffle. The premise is quite simple: put your name into a drawing to receive extremely discounted tickets for choice seating. Again, prices will vary, but normally are situated between $10 and $50. Most lotteries are held digitally through lottery websites, a trend which began after Hamilton hopefuls crowded 46th Street in dangerous proportions. Most of the links to individual lottery sites can be found through the above website, though most can be found by a simple Google search: show name + lottery.
No Broadway lottery will ever charge a fee for entering and no payment is required unless you win the lottery. Some shows will allow you to enter up to a week before the show date, and every show in between, some can be entered the night before, and others cannot be entered until the day of the show. Lotteries will usually be drawn and winners announced within 24 hours of the show date. If you get rush tickets and find out later you won lottery tickets for a different show at the same time, it is frowned upon, but possible to reschedule rush tickets for a different show date.
One of the most popular but one of the only remaining street lotteries is for the The Book of Mormon, a popular satiric comedy which usually sells out well in advance. Hopefuls can gather outside the theater two-and-a-half hours prior to curtain to put their name into a drawing to receive center front row seating or seating that has been left unsold. Be warned that it is possible that groups of two might even be separated—it is then up to you to determine exactly how much you love your date.
Another tip regarding ticket purchasing in general: know your Broadway terminology. If a Times Square scalper (and you should never buy tickets from a scalper) is offering you the “best tickets you can buy,” they’re 1) probably fake, and 2) located in the rear far left or right mezzanine, meaning you’re a level above the stage (mezzanine) and seated in the Broadway nosebleeds. If you’re considering tickets with partial or obstructed view, it means you’re usually to the far left or right and stage left or stage right is partially obstructed by equipment or the building’s architecture. That usually just means you won’t see the actors entering and leaving the stage; most of the narrative occurs center stage, anyways. It’s always important to be an informed consumer.
Broadway, let alone New York City, can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first visit, but the experience can be rewarding and memorable for a lifetime. I saw nine shows in seven days (seriously, take advantage of the less crowded matinees) and I owe it to proper planning, passion, and the super convenient, super creepy alleyway shortcuts—I kid you not that rush can and will mean running between theaters. So if you find yourself in the Big Apple anytime soon, you’ll find the “New York minute” can and usually does apply to snagging Broadway tickets.