Theatre Lover's Journal for May 2000:

TKTS Memories

by John Kenrick

The Theatre Development Fund's announcement that it is planning to revamp the TKTS discount ticket booth in Times Square sent my thoughts back to the 1970's, when I was a kid in high school and the booth made regular theatre going financially feasible. A half price matinee orchestra seat went for as little as $9, service charge included! With the salary from a weekend job, I could always scrape together the price of a ticket plus lunch – and my favorite French restaurant in the theatre district had a luscious four course pre-matinee lunch for $6.95. (Yeah kiddies – read it and weep!)

Living in Queens meant that TKTS was a thirty cent subway ride from home. (Oh Lord – I could weep over that one myself!) Saturday matinee seats officially went on sale at noon, so I would meet friends at the booth at 8:30 A.M. to guarantee that we would be the first ones on line. We parked ourselves at the innermost window of the booth, usually on the East side (closest to The Palace Theatre) – our "good luck" spot.

Coffee and bagels were consumed as we pored through the NY Times, debating what that day's choice would be. In our logo t-shirts, well-worn jeans and windbreakers, we did our best to look like the blas' New York theatre people we yearned to be – heaven forbid that anyone should mistake us for tourists! With almost no other souls in sight for an hour or so, we felt terribly pleased – and more than a little smug.

The first ones to join our early watch were usually a group of scruffy-looking middle aged theatre buffs. These guys wore cheap toupees and even cheaper polyester pants. As a rule, they already had theatre tickets for that day. They simply loved to hang out, brag about what they had seen and simply enjoy the excitement of the line. They looked down their greasy noses at us kids, and we looked down our noses at them, each group reveling in the other's disdain.

Being the first on line meant all sorts of people would come up asking how the line worked or what shows might be available. Everyone was itching to see A Chorus Line, which did not show up regularly at TKTS until the 1980's. We were anything but shy about our opinions, and directed many an uncertain visitor to our favorite shows and eateries – and I still stand by those recommendations today!

If we were lucky, one of the TKTS window shades would be a bit ajar, and we could sneak an early peek at the boards listing that day's offerings. Orange colored lastic plaques embossed with the names of shows were attached to matching sets of red plastic boards that would be planted on each side of the booth. Once the boards came out at 11:50 AM, chaos reigned as we quickly settled on which show to see and gave last minute advise to friendly tourists. Then came the rush of the windows opening, getting the first seats to the show of our choice, and sailing off to a celebratory lunch.

Oh, the wondrous shows we got into! I Love My Wife, Side By Side By Sondheim, Day in Hollywood/Night in The Ukraine, Chicago, Shenandoah, the all-black Guys and Dolls – and non-musicals like Sly Fox (with Robert Preston), The Shadow Box and California Suite. I carried the habit on into my college years, organizing bands of classmates and camping out at TKTS for seats to On the 20th Century, Ain't Misbehavin', Channing's first revival of Hello Dolly, They're Playing Our Song, Sandy Duncan's magical Peter Pan, Kiley in Man of La Mancha, I Remember Mama, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Annie . . .and oh so many more!

While I no longer make those Saturday pilgrimages to TKTS, I made a point of being the first on line one weekday last summer -- just to see what it would be like. A lot has changed. Digital display screens have replaced the old listing boards, and the cliques of theatre-loving locals have been replaced by tourists itching to see Lion King. But it was all sorts of fun to watch the big parade go by, and people still asked questions and shared opinions of the latest shows. And I must confess to still feeling a silly thrill when the windows opened and I got first dibs on the show I wanted.

Long live TKTS! I just hope there are some kids out there who think $45 half price tickets are a bargain, and that the booth becomes their key to a lifetime of memories.

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