The TKTS Discount Booth at Times Square, where theater fans can purchase steeply discounted tickets for musicals and plays, is a non-stop beehive of activity seven days a week.
Governed by the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), the TKTS booths – which also have locations in Brooklyn and at the South Street Seaport – dispense between 1.4 and 1.6 million theater tickets each year. This equals about 12 to 15 percent of all Broadway tickets sold.
When visitors first approach the Times Square TKTS booth, located at Broadway and 47th Street, the sight of long lines can be daunting. However, even on its busiest days the wait is seldom more than 45 minutes, according to Victoria Bailey, the executive director of TDF, the only not-for-profit organization dedicated to serving the entire spectrum of the performing arts.
TDF is more than a conduit for half price tickets. Its membership, education, subsidy, access and dance programs all further its core mission of ensuring the vitality of theater and dance by building and sustaining audiences.
“We are very committed to our mission,” says Bailey, who holds a B.A. in history from Yale College and also serves as an adjunct professor at the School of the Arts at Columbia University. “The TKTS booths are really the only reliable places where people can expect to get a true 50 percent discount. This service affords many people the opportunity to see a show who may not otherwise have the chance to do so.”
In addition to overseeing the TKTS booths, TDF also runs a very successful Education and Engagement Program which includes several offshoots. Its Stage Door Program connects high school students with teaching artists in a manner that is consistent with the New York City educational curriculum. Over 8,000 students benefit from this program each year.
Further, its Open Door Program serves small groups of students who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to discuss theater. “It can lead to a civilized difference of opinion, which seems to be disappearing in today’s society,” says Bailey.
Also, TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative works closely with certain theaters and selected plays in order to produce a sensory sensitive show for families with children on the autism spectrum. TDF usually offers about four shows each year, which have included “Wicked” and “The Lion King.”
BELLA NYC recently received an exclusive interview with Bailey.
Explain the benefits of becoming a TDF member:
TDF membership is available to categories such as: students, retirees, teachers, or those who work for a non-profit or union. TDF membership, which is separate from the TKTS booths, gives you the ability to purchase discounted tickets online. The main difference is you can’t pick where your seats will be, but you are guaranteed they will be together. We have about 105,000 members who purchase about 650,000 tickets each year, some as low as $9 for Off-Off Broadway and $47 for a Broadway musical. Being a member opens the breadth of opportunity to see theater.
What is the Fast Pass line at the Times Square TKTS booth?
This began a few years ago at the suggestion of the Broadway League as a way to encourage multiple theater visits. Fast Pass allows patrons to return to the Times Square ticket booth within seven days of their previous purchase and walk up to window Number One with their ticket stub, thereby avoiding the longer lines at peak hours.
How does the Play Only line work?
Although the majority of tourists who come to New York want to see a Broadway musical, there are many local residents who prefer plays. Thus we have a designated “play only” line that reduces the wait time for these people. We’ve been offering this service for seven years and it has received very positive feedback.
Who determines the TKTS ticket prices?
That’s all determined by each of the theaters and producers, and the prices can fluctuate throughout the day. However, the producers know that people who come to the booths expect a discount of 50 percent.
Are there any secrets for getting the tickets you want for a particular show at the best price?
We now offer an app that lists available shows and prices in real time, which is helpful if you’re in the vicinity of the booths. Tickets get released all day by theaters, and a good time to check for seats is 5:30 in the afternoon. It’s always advisable to have more than one show in mind when standing in the line for tickets.
What do you like most about New York City?
I can’t imagine being anywhere else. The city continues to give me energy, and I love its diversity. It never seems to sit still.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a big Yankee fan and actually saw Derek Jeter’s last game. Also, I love to garden and I spend a lot of time at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.