Eugene Rodriguez goes back a long way with the Theatre Development Fund--to the very beginning, in fact. The first theatre production he ever saw was the James Earl Jones boxing drama The Great White Hope
, which also happens to have been the first production ever subsidized by TDF, in the form of discounted tickets for young audiences.
"It's still the best thing I've ever seen on Broadway," Rodriguez raves of the 1968 Broadway show.
Not that Rodriguez hasn't had plenty of shows since then to compare it to: He and his wife of 37 years, Jane, now regularly enjoy deep ticket discounts with their TDF Membership.
"Even when tickets were cheaper, going to the theatre frequently was still something that required a lot of discretionary income," says Rodriguez, a retiree who worked for the Off-Track Betting Corporation and now lives in Long Island. If that was true in the day of $3 tickets, it's true even more now that Broadway tickets have settled well north of the three-digit mark.
"It's been an enriching experience that would not have been in our reach if it weren't for TDF," Rodriguez says. "We would not be able to see as much as theatre as we do if we weren't members of TDF."
To make their theatregoing dollars go even further, Gene and Jane try to schedule two-play days, with one matinee and one evening performance—not to mention one meal and one set of round-trip tickets on the Long Island Railroad.
"It saves money just to go into town once," says Gene. A relatively recent outing included a matinee of The Homecoming
("That made us squirm, they were so freaky, those people") and an evening show of the comedy November
. Sparing no detail, Gene adds: "We went to the Brooklyn Diner for dinner."
Eugene and Jane have many warm theatre-related memories. He fondly recalls the time he and his OTB colleagues bowled against the Broadway Show League, an informal league of sports teams comprised of Broadway casts and crews.
"Where the ESPN Zone is now, there used to be a bowling alley," Rodriguez begins, warming to the subject. "I remember that after we saw Shenandoah
, we bowled against the dancers from Chicago
"The original Chicago
!" Jane can be heard chiming in.
"Right, the original Chicago
," Gene continues with a good-natured chuckle. "It was very distracting--those women's legs were amazing. They were terrible bowlers, but they had such form."
Several original productions figure among the highlights of Gene and Jane's TDF-assisted theatregoing: Evita, The Wiz
, Kiss of the Spider Woman
and The Boy From Oz.
That last show is one Gene confesses he would never have tried without a discount upfront.
"I didn't much care for Peter Allen, but my wife loves Hugh Jackman, and I said, 'I'll go,' 'cause I liked him as Wolverine in X-Men,
" says Rodriguez. "It was a great show, and I'm glad I saw it. But why would I have paid full price to see the life story of a guy I didn't even like when he was alive?"
Indeed, he confesses, he and Jane "try never to pay full price." One exception they made recently: "To see the look on our granddaughter's face after we saw Little Mermaid
—that was worth it." They next plan to squire the lucky six-year-old to Jump
, the Korean martial arts comedy, which they've already seen and enjoyed, as well as The Gazillion Bubble Show
Gene even credits a TDF-discounted ticket for his "15 minutes of fame." During the clown show Fool Moon
, which featured Bill Irwin and David Shiner, Shiner called up a group of volunteers to mime the goings-on on a movie set.
"All four of us were quite nervous, but I had an advantage over the other three," Gene admits. "I had seen him do the same skit on an HBO presentation of Cirque du Soleil
." Soon, Eugene says, he "had the audience roaring with laughter, and Mr. Shiner whispered to me, 'You're not a ham, you're the whole pig!' I thought I had died and gone to heaven."
On their way back on the LIRR, Gene recalls, he even got stopped for autographs. That moment of pseudo-stardom aside, he and his wife, a former special-ed teacher, live a pretty regular retired life. They're hoping at some point to take advantage of TDF's Travel tours
With some friends from Pennsylvania, the Rodriguezes have even availed themselves of TDF's most public service.
"Every once in a while we'll try to get into town early and get on the TKTS
line to see what's available."
Here are a pair of TDF members who put the "go" in theatregoer.
For more information about becoming a TDF Member, click here.