AP Drama Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Hundreds of tourists and New Yorkers show up each day at the famed TKTS booth in the heart of Times Square with questions about Broadway shows. Often they're very interesting questions.
Like: "Can I get a ticket to see the 'Superman' musical"? Or, "Are there seats available for 'The Comedy of Edward Foote'''? And, "What about 'Cats'? We really want to see 'Cats.'"
To which the answers are: "You probably mean 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark' and, yes, tickets are available." Or, "Might you be actually referring to 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'''? And finally, "No, sorry, 'Cats' closed in 2000."
The people patiently doing the answering are part of a carefully assembled group of professionals who wear red jackets or T-shirts with the TKTS logo and the printed slogan "Got questions?"
They help visitors navigate the choices as they wait on line for same-day discount Broadway and off-Broadway tickets at the Times Square TKTS booth, which this week celebrates its 40th birthday.
It is at the booth where Broadway shows can be more affordable for those who balk at prices pushing past $300 a seat for some shows. Thirty percent of the people who line up here are first-time Broadway theatergoers.
"This is the place where theater is staying accessible to people who are on some sort of budget," Victoria Bailey, executive director of the nonprofit Theatre Development Fund, which runs the booth, said recently on a glorious afternoon in a crowded Times Square.
Thousands of tickets will be sold this day as each of the city's theater box offices calculate how many full-price tickets it can sell and then send the rest to the booth. The theater gets all the ticket revenue and TDF gets a $4 service fee.
Some 58.5 million tickets have been sold from the booth during its 40 years, and it remains a draw even in middle-age. Despite online rivals and the rise of premium ticket pricing, lining up at the booth is as fundamental to being in the city as cooing over the Statue of Liberty.
"This is what we do as New Yorkers," said Betsy Paquelet Patrick, who was on line to get 40-percent-off tickets for "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" with her two daughters, Sophie, 9, and Maggie, 7. "When we have a half-day at school on Wednesday, we run down here and get tickets to whatever we can see."
The booth was an experiment that stuck. It opened for business on June 25, 1973, housed in a trailer with four windows. The current glass-enclosed booth under a red glass staircase opened in 2008, part of an $18 million renovation project, has 12 windows -- one of which is dedicated to plays and another that offers full-price tickets to future shows.
Visitors make their picks from a list of shows on continually updating electronic boards. Tickets to mega-hits like "The Book of Mormon" and "Lucky Guy" won't appear since they don't need to offer discounts, but there are usually plenty of options. The advice is to be flexible -- have two or three possible shows by the time you get to the window.
On this day, the booth had 50 percent discounts to matinees of "Ann," ''Chicago," ''Mamma Mia!" ''The Assembled Parties," ''The Phantom of the Opera," ''Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" and "Jersey Boys." You could see "The Nance" for 40 percent off and "The Trip to Bountiful" for a 30 percent discount.
The line began forming before the booth opened at 10 a.m., and as many as six TDF patron representatives with iPads packed with info were on hand to help visitors make up their minds and spark conversations with other patrons about shows.
"There's a lot of people on this line who are going to Broadway for the first time. And people are scared -- 'Where do I go?' 'What do I see?' 'How does it work?'" said Bailey. "You come here and you just listen. There's this fellowship of people having a conversation about theater. I don't think that fellowship is ever going to go out of fashion."
The 18-member strong red-shirted representatives are all theater fans, having seen all the shows on offer and aware of the best and worst seats in the city's various theaters. Most patrons get through the line in less than 45 minutes, longer on holidays.
The representatives gently untangle the desires of visitors, or tell them that "Take Me Out" is about much more than baseball. "Today on the line someone asked whether Nathan Lane was performing in 'Once,'" said Michael Buffer, 25, who leads the representatives, all of whom are outgoing and personable. "My staff knows how to say, 'The Phantom of the Opera' in as many languages as possible."