How To See Theater On a Budget

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A collection of playbills from spending a summer in NYC and not spending more than $40.00 on each of these shows by using the tips I outline below

Theater is one of my biggest passions in life. I’ve been “going to the theater” since I was a baby and I feel lucky that my family instilled that in me at a young age.

Because of my career path, going to the theater continues to be one of my priorities and I love nothing more than sitting inside a dark and beautiful space, and watch the magic of a story unfold on stage.

It’s sad to me that the majority of audiences are still old, white people. Going to the theater has historically been an elitist activity and it stands true to this day, despite many theaters attempting to make it affordable.

Even worse, with hits like Hamilton, it’s a common practice for scalpers to buy up a bunch of tickets and then sell them at much, much, higher prices which is why you see tickets for Hamilton going at thousands of dollars.

Fundamentally, that is not right. However, if you want to see ANY theater and don’t just have your eyes set solely on Hamilton, there are much, much cheaper options!

I am here to tell you that I have never spent more than $50 on a theater ticket and I have seen over 100 Broadway shows throughout my lifetime.

There ARE affordable ways to go and see theater in mostly every city, and especially in New York City. If it is your dream to go see a Broadway show, but the price tag has been deterring you then follow this guide to find your way to make theater affordable!

General Rush

Almost every Broadway theater offers general rush tickets. These are “first come, first serve” tickets that are usually sold at 10 am for the same day show and run for about $30-$40.

Beware, because for the more popular shows some people start lining up in the middle of the night, so if you are die hard fan of a particular show, this may be the way to go.

I personally have never “gotten up early” and waited in line for a ticket, because honestly no show is worth that for me, but for the less “popular” shows I have showed up around 9:45 and gotten a general rush ticket (and sometimes they have still been available for me around 11 am!)

It all depends on the length of the shows run, how many tony awards they have, cast, buzz, etc.

Student Rush

If you have a student ID, make sure to hold on to that puppy for as long as you’re able, because that little piece of plastic can get you some major discounts on shows.

Most theaters do have a student rush policy, Broadway theaters and regional theaters included. These usually run for $25-$40 depending on the theater and are usually a separate block of tickets if the theater also does general rush (which means more available and cheaper tickets, yay!).

If you have one of those precious ID’s, make sure to always ask if they have a student ticket price before checking out.

I graduated from school a year ago, but still use my ID anytime I am getting a “student ticket”. I even made sure to get a new picture on my ID before I graduated so I could use it for longer.

Yes, it may be a little dishonest, but ya girl is on a budget and hasn’t graduated to full adult price tickets just yet!

Standing Room

Standing room is one of my favorite ways to get cheap seats (well, you don’t actually get a seat, hence the name, standing room) because they are always the cheapest price (around $20-$30) and you’re usually way closer to the action on stage standing at the back of the orchestra, versus when you get rush seats sometimes you can be at the back of the balcony.

It does mean that yes, you have to stand for the duration of the performance which can be anywhere from 90 minutes to 2.5 hours, but being young and able bodied this is very doable especially if it’s a show that is hard to get tickets for.

Keep in mind that most theaters will only sell standing room if the show is completely sold out, so I have actually had more luck seeing the more popular shows doing standing room since of course, the popular ones are the ones more likely to sell out.

If you’re buying same-day tickets, definitely ask to see if they have any standing room available to get the biggest bang for your buck!

Lottery

If you like taking the luck of the draw, then entering the theater lottery is the way to go for you.

A lot of theaters offer a lottery which offer amazing seats (in my experience, second or third row) for anywhere from $10-$40.

Back in the day, they would do the lottery on the day of the show, 2.5 hours before the performance started, so you all would gather outside the theater, enter your name into a bucket and then they would pull about 20 names.

The cool thing about this was waiting to see if your name was called which was exciting in itself, but the downside was that if you didn’t win the lottery, your chances for entering the lottery that day were shot and you were left with no other options except maybe trying to get last minute seats.

Nowadays, many theaters have instituted a digital lottery, which is nice because then you can enter as many as you’d like and you don’t have to physically go to the theater to put your name in the pot.

The downside to that is, more and more people enter the digital lottery so it’s harder to win since your chances are significantly lowered.

I have never had much luck with the lottery, but since there’s no risk it’s worth it to enter your name online and see what can happen!

TodayTix

There are a few apps/websites (Theater Mania, Goldstar) and cheap ticket booths around the city such as TKTS that offer full price seats for last minute discounts, but my personal favorite is TodayTix. You can see deals for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows and choose your adventure.

Some theaters even do a “digital rush” which involves getting on your phone at exactly 10 AM and seeing if you can score one of those very limited, cheaper tix.

Of course, these methods for getting to see theater on a budget only work if you are flexible with what you want to see. I am a very go with the flow type person, so if I get tickets that day, great, and if I don’t, then I’d go do something else, or if one show didn’t work out, then I’d try at another theater, since I am open to seeing anything and everything.

If there’s a show you are dying to see, my advice would be to buy tickets way in advance so that you can lock those down, or wait to see when it’s going on tour and if it’s cheaper to get tickets to the touring production.

Also, keep in mind that commercial theater will always be more expensive than some of the indie, off-Broadway type theater. In my experience, it’s every easy to get tickets to off-Broadway shows or more under the radar downtown theater for $25.00. These type of shows usually feel more inventive and artistic to me anyways.

Below is a link to Playbill that will detail all the rush/standing room/and lottery policies for every Broadway show playing right now.

Playbill Rush/Standing Room/Lottery Policies

Did you find this list helpful? Let me know!

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