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Cut Costs on Theater Tickets

Want to see The Lion King for less? Try these tips for finding cheap seats to plays and musicals.

an usher in a theater

— Peter M. Fisher/Corbis

Ken Ward doesn’t consider himself all that lucky, but recently he and his family were able to see two theater performances for free. How does he do it? The 57-year-old athletic director from Bethpage, N.Y., enters online sweepstakes. On average, he says he wins something every couple of months. Lately, the prizes have been show tickets.

“It’s a little hobby,” says Ward, who checks the Internet and newspapers for sweepstakes announcements. Not long ago, he scored two seats for Hairspray, the musical, which sold for $52 each. “I do this on a regular basis.”

Sweepstakes work for Ward, but many other ways to save on theater tickets come with better odds. Give one of these penny-pinching tips for theater fans a try.

Volunteer at a theater
If you're retired or otherwise have the free time, one of the thriftiest ways to see a show is to volunteer as an usher. Alternatively, especially if you can't stay on your feet that long, offer to sell tickets, hand out programs or work the coat check — whatever help the theater needs. In exchange, volunteers not only get to see performances for free but also may acquire backstage access.

While you're probably not going to land a gig volunteering on Broadway, many regional and community theaters welcome free help. It's a good way to keep down costs. And don’t assume you'll be stuck watching shows you've never heard of. Kira Cowan, editor of TipHero.com, an online community that offers advice on saving money, says the Blue Man Group in Boston takes volunteers.

Join a discount ticket club
For $30 a year, you can become a member of the Theatre Development Fund, which offers deep discounts on show tickets to certain groups including teachers, civil servants, retirees and even disabled theatergoers. The fund is the same outfit that operates the TKTS booths in New York City that sell cheap last-minute tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway performances.

Playbill, the publisher of show programs, has a free Playbill Club. Join it on Playbill.com. Daily e-mails go out to members offering cut rates on select performances. A discount code is usually available that you can use online or by phone, or print out the offer and take it to the box office. Some of the discounts have a long shelf life, so you can take advantage of them even if you live out of state.

Bypass Broadway
When most people talk about live theater, they think of Broadway. Sure, seeing Wicked or The Lion King on the big stage is great, but it's also pricey. Even bad seats can demand $100 or more. Instead, attend performances at local community theaters, colleges or even high schools. The production won't be as splashy, but it's still entertaining — and you might catch a rising star in the process. Plus, you can probably see one of these shows for as little as $5.

Attend shows at off-peak times
For most performances, weekends are when tickets sell at a premium. If budget is your top priority, try attending shows during the week, especially weekday matinees. Not only will you save a few bucks, but you'll also beat the crowds. A recent check found that weekend tickets to Mary Poppins at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., ran between $90 and $100 for seats in the rear orchestra. The same seats cost $85 for a Wednesday matinee.

Get group discounts
Going with a group — your family, book club or church choir — also can save you money. Theaters need to fill seats and are willing to accommodate large groups with discounts that can be half off or more, depending on the popularity of a given performance. You usually need a minimum of 10 to 20 people to merit a group discount. Call the theater directly for details. Many will even waive service fees on group purchases.


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