the humans broadway lottery

Cheap Broadway Tickets Can Be a Matter of Luck, Timing and Apps

SAM PARKER’S smile was so big, he looked as if he’d just won the lottery. Which he had: to “Hamilton,” the hottest show on Broadway.

Mr. Parker, a young actor who said he wouldn’t be able to afford a regularly priced ticket, lucked out at a recent lottery drawing for 21 front-row seats ($10) and eight standing-room spots ($40) to “Hamilton,” a hip-hop musical about the founding fathers and one of the most elusive tickets. He was among some 350 people who entered the lottery, held under the marquee at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

In snagging a $10 ticket to see the show, he is one of the fortunate audience members who realize that cheap seats remain possible to find — if you have time before a show to pop an entry in a bucket or, increasingly, hit send on your phone.

Broadway lotteries that offer deeply discounted tickets have blossomed since 1996, when “Rent” made some $20 seats at the Nederlander Theater available for every performance. (It started as a first-come, first-served offer but evolved into a lottery.)

The few shows with in-person lotteries host them before every performance with rare exceptions (like President Obama’s scheduled attendance at a performance of “Hamilton” on Monday for a Democratic Party fund-raiser). In this smartphone era, though, in-person ticket derbies are being superseded by digital lotteries, online or through an app.

Lottery economics favor both producers and audiences. People who can’t afford tickets get to see shows on the cheap and on the fly. Producers fill seats — generally in the first two rows, partial-view seats or in the boxes — with enthusiastic theatergoers who tend to be young and savvy about posting their winnings on social media.

Some new shows, like “Hamilton” and “Spring Awakening,” turn their live drawings for tickets — which go for well over $100 apiece — into full-fledged events. Long-running hits like “The Book of Mormon” and “Wicked” continue to be draws.

Even when a show isn’t exceptional, lottery winners supply the kind of engagement that generates buzzy feedback and word of mouth that producers crave.

“As soon as the show ends, who jumps up first? Those first two rows,” said Kevin McCollum, a “Rent” producer who’s currently represented on Broadway with “Something Rotten!” and “Hand to God.”

These days, playing the lottery calls for a mix of old-fashioned luck and golden-touch technique. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the waters.

A $10 front-row ticket to “Hamilton”? It can happen, thanks to lottery drawings. Here’s a guide to trying for deeply discounted tickets to Broadway shows.