How to see theater like a native New YorkerMonday, July 16th, 2012
by Kara Weisenstein
Tips and tricks for the overwhelmed tourist
Languid late-July brings crushing humidity, interesting subway smells, and – surprisingly – thousands of first-timer tourists to New York City. While savvy travelers see more than the neon-laden streets of Times Square, it’s hard for some visitors to break out of the box of easy (read: touristy) activities, including the limited selection of big-ticket, long-running Broadway staples.
Ask any New Yorker, and they’ll tell you a free walk across the Brooklyn Bridge beats $25 tickets to the Empire State Building observation deck. (And then they’ll probably tell you to take your $25 and spend it on a farm-to-table brunch in Cobble Hill. Or something.)
But tackling the plethora of theater options can be trickier for visitors than figuring out the exact speed and technique behind an effective MetroCard swipe. With overwhelming options and no standard ticket price, where does the tired tourist turn?
As folks who see theater for a living, we at The Drama League have a few tips that’ll have you seeing theater like a native in no time:
Do your research.
In a new city, the surest way to find out what’s good – and what’s worth avoiding – is to read local publications. New York in particular garners more arts coverage than most cities, so check out what’s recommended in The New York Times, The New York Post, Time Out New York, New York Magazine, Backstage, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, and so many more. The Times even has a cool “Show Tuner” that lets you adjust sliders to indicate what you’re in the mood for, and the app spits out recommended shows based on your preferences.
Take advantage of cheap tickets.
You’ve done your homework and are dying to see Show X. One hurdle remains: getting tickets. But alas! Ticket prices vary show-to-show and variable pricing makes it nearly impossible to identify great deals.
One option is discounted ticketing services. TKTS is a favorite of tourists and natives alike for last minute deals at 20-50% off the box office price. But beware of Times Square! Our Finance Manager Rob Weinstein suggests going to the South Street Seaport or downtown Brooklyn locations, because lines are short or nonexistent. There’s also a TKTS iOS App which lets you view what’s on sale at each location, compare discounts, and read detailed show descriptions before standing in line.
To book in advance, our favorite site is Givenik, which donates 5% of every ticket purchase to your favorite charity. In addition to cheap tickets, they hawk premium and group rates. Our Member Services Manager Tom Sime recommends Givenik wholeheartedly, and The Drama League is even featured as an eligible charity, albeit under the letter “T” not “D” like one would assume.
Be open to spontaneity.
Hit shows like The Book of Mormon rarely offer discounts, and full price tickets sell out months in advance. Last minute, you can shell out for premium tickets or try your luck in a ticket lottery. The rules are simple: a few hours before curtain, enter your name in a daily drawing at the theater box office. If your name is called, you get a pair of cheap tickets (usually around $25 in cash) and bragging rights. If you lose, try your luck again tomorrow – or rush off to get different tickets elsewhere. This technique requires flexibility and luck, but it can pay off in a big way and make for very memorable theatergoing. Playbill curates a complete list of lottery and rush policies for on-and-off-Broadway shows.
Word of mouth is your best bet.
At the end of day, fellow theatergoers are an excellent resource. Before you visit, ask for recommendations from friends. Grill acquaintances living in NYC for tips. And if you don’t know a soul in the city, strike up a conversation with someone who looks like they know what they’re doing in the TKTS line. I’ve listened as many-a-tourist waffles between Chicago and Mamma Mia!, and I invariably wanted to offer up a dozen alternative suggestions. Ask for advice. People are often very willing to help.
A final tip: while Broadway is on the must-do list for most tourists, many New Yorkers opt for non-profit theater companies just as often. Seeking out theater companies usually means prices are cheaper, productions are staged with an emphasis on artistry, and shows sometimes feature major stars in meaty roles. This fall, David Schwimmer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce are all appearing in non-profit productions off-Broadway. In return for venturing off the beaten path, you can claim a unique experience not-likely shared by your friends at home. Look up organizations like Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club, Classic Stage Company, The Public Theater, The Vineyard Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, La MaMa…the list goes on and on.
So when you’re visiting New York and at a loss as to what to see, remember my friends, taking advantage of ticket deals ultimately means you’ll have more green for more tickets to see more theater. And that’s the ultimate win-win, is it not?
What are your tips and tricks for seeing theater like a native? Tell us on our facebook page!