By: Willa - Willa@CheapInTheCity.com
Last Updated: July 19, 2016
When I first came to New York City, I assumed that Broadway was simply out of my reach, financially. But, little did I know, there's a ton of cheap (and even FREE) options to be found!
Free theater is rare but it does exist in NYC. The most prominent example is The Public Theater which hosts Shakespeare in the Park every summer. Previous years have included an incredible production of Hair (which then went to Broadway) as well as shows featuring big stars, like the Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino. And I got to see them for FREE! But before anyone complains about getting up at 5am to wait in Central Park for tickets, let me introduce you to the "virtual" ticket line. Once the Public Theater starts the season you can register on-line and click a few buttons to join the virtual line every day for a chance to get two free tickets. The trick is to always log in and get in the virtual line at midnight. I did this for several weeks straight and was finally rewarded. Their website can get bogged down with traffic and tends to be slow, so have patience. It's worth it for the quality of FREE theater you get.
There are several ways to find cheap theater in the city. Check out off, off, off Broadway, Hiptix, rush tickets or the TKTS booths. I've done off-Broadway and it can be great fun. But it involves a lot of research and a rather large gamble on quality. One trick is to buy weekday tickets. When I went to see Altar Boyz (hilarious!) I bought $25 obscured view Wednesday evening tickets and then moved right dab in the center a few minutes after the show started because the theater was only a third full.
Hiptix is another great way to see theater. This program offers discounted tickets to those under 30 years of age. They check your ID before giving you the ticket at the show, so don't try and cheat. And the tickets are deeply discounted. The regular Hiptix price is around $22 but if you wait until the end of a show's season they can go as low as $10. Seriously! And these are plays that are reviewed in the NYT, that have star celebrities of both stage and screen (like Mary Louise Parker in Hedda Gabler) and are playing in legitimate theaters. The gem about Hiptix is that they have parties every once in a while. If you buy a ticket to the play on the night of one of these parties, you get to mix and mingle with the cast while eating free food, drinking free booze and go home with free goodies. All for around 25 bucks! It's an amazing deal.
If you aren't DYING to see a show, another option is rush or lottery tickets. Not all shows offer rush or lottery tickets and each show has a different set of rules. You can check here for a list of shows that offer lottery, rush, or standing room tickets and their policies. For student rush tickets, they usually release a view obscured view seats when the box office opens and tickets are around $25-30. It's a great deal and I highly recommend it for any students. For non-students, you can also find lottery tickets available. Again, make sure to check here lottery rules and info, but they usually have you enter your name into the lottery and they'll let you know when to come back for the lottery drawing. A couple of shows, including Hamilton, even offer online lotteries now, so you don't have to go to the box office for the lottery. You can find the shows that offer online lotteries here, just remember to pay attention to when the lottery closes. You usually have about 30 minutes after the drawing ends to claim your tickets, so don't forget to check your email. This is not a surefire way to see a show and you may end up trying day after day without luck, but if you're one of the lucky ones, you can get deeply discounted tickets.
If you are DYING to see a show and willing to pay a little more than the rush or lottery prices, check out apps like TodayTix. Ticket prices are usually 30-50% off, and you can buy tickets days or weeks in advance, so you're not at the mercy of the lottery gods. You purchase tickets through the app, then pick them up from a TodayTix representative outside the theater before the show.
The last way to get cheap Broadway tickets is to visit one of the three TKTS booths in the city. For more information on the booths and how they work, check out our article here.
If you like comedy, please please stay away from the stand-up comedy promoters! There's really only one place to go and that's UCB-The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Their shows range from $5-10 and are completely hilarious, zany, weird and riotous. It's really a blast and I've always preferred sketch comedy or improv to stand up. You might even run into some SNL peeps here! You do have to wait in line outside of this basement theater, so go in warm weather or bring a coat. The shows tend to start later at night (say from 8pm-midnight) so drink some coffee. But you won't regret spending the price of a beer for a good chunk of live comedy.
TV Show Tapings
On a side note: for those of you with flexible schedules, TV shows are a great way to get free entertainment. Many shows in NYC give away free tickets or have flexible audience policies. The Daily Show gives out daily tickets and has a standby line (be sure to get there early with a book). Other shows like Martha Stewart issue tickets in advance and treat you to snacks in the waiting room- and possibly goodies during the show. Check out more information on show tapings here.
So enjoy all the New York has to offer without breaking the bank!