by Valerie Nelson
Broadway shows are an invaluable element of New York City’s culture, but grabbing a seat isn’t as easy as walking up to the box office. With tickets going for hundreds of dollars and popular musicals getting booked months in advance, the average tourist or New Yorker doesn’t have a chance to score a night at the theater.
The lottery system gives everyone a chance. “Wicked” and “Book of Mormon” are the most popular shows right now, and both hold lottery drawings two hours before curtain time. Anywhere from 75 to 150 people (and more in peak times like the Christmas season and summer) crowd around the marquee, listen to the instructions and enter the frenzy for lotto slips. They have a 30 minute window to fill it out- full name, state, and number of tickets (1 or 2)- and hand it over to an employee. The receptacle varies by show- “Book of Mormon” uses a standard barrel, with a handle to thoroughly mix, while the trash-glam “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” has entrants drop their cards into a metal bucket that the coordinator hand-tosses.
When time is called, the crowd pulls in even tighter and eagerly anticipates their name being called. At “Book of Mormon,” self-proclaimed “Lottery Dude” Christopher Catalano hams it up, with accents and sweeping gestures. The winners are surprisingly diverse- people are from Mexico, Canada, Belgium, and even Utah (though they were vocally non-Mormon). The first half are front row seats and the rest are in the boxes. Tension mingles with excitement. There are cheers and groans. It’s all over in about ten minutes and a handful of losers trudge over to the Standing Room Only line, hoping to snag one of the twenty spots available. A few people excitedly gather by the theater door, waiting for their friends and family members who won. The rest walk away, disappointed but often planning their next trip to a Broadway lottery.