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How TKTS Has (And Hasn't) Changed Patrons and employees reflect on 40 years of the Booth

By COLIN GROUNDWATER

It is a Wednesday in Times Square, and it is hot. Hundreds of people curl around TDF's TKTS booth, sweating as they wait to buy discounted tickets to a variety of shows. They constitute "the line," the throng of patrons that appears at the Booth every day.

Despite the heat, however, a good mood permeates the scene. For one thing, there's an air of expectation. Every day, the Booth hosts hundreds of people who have never seen a Broadway show, and in fact, many of those people have never been to the theatre at all.

There's also the knowledge that being in the line is a New York tradition. As TKTS celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer, that sense of history seems especially notable. Just last month, for instance, in a gala celebration hosted in Times Square, the city of New York declared June 26, 2013 as "TKTS Day."

But while the mission of the Booth---to provide discount tickets to the best live performances---hasn't changed in 40 years, TKTS itself has evolved.

For instance, there are now three booths, including outposts in Brooklyn and at the South Street Seaport. And in Times Square, the Booth's glass-encased, contemporary building, under an iconic set of red steps, has become a centerpiece of the city's architecture since it opened in 2008. Since 2010, patrons on the line have also been greeted by the TKTS Patron Services Reps, who mill about in red t-shirts, answering questions about shows, New York, and more.

Michael Traupman, a patron who has used TKTS consistently since his first visit in 1986 (the show: The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Imperial Theatre), remembers a booth that lacked its present-day luster. "The Booth in '86 was being held together, I think, by paperclips and barbed wire," he recalls with a laugh.

Bill Castellano, TKTS Head Treasurer, also remembers a more lackluster Booth. "Pretty much what wasn't working was everything," he says. "We had to change everything we did." Under Castellano, the changes have been extensive and effective. By automating the ticketing system and streamlining sales services, today's Booth is more efficient than any of its predecessors. Still, Castellano keeps a cash drawer from the original 1973 Booth as a testament to how far TKTS has come.

Meanwhile, Michael Buffer, manager of the Patron Services program, thinks the time is right for the reps to be part of the TKTS experience. "I think nowadays, there's more of a demand for a personal connection, especially with all the social media out there, and the idea of Patron Services is to demystify the whole process of buying tickets for a discount---putting a really friendly face and access to good information out there."

Matt McGloin, a rep who has been with the program since its inception, emphasizes the human element of his work. "We don't just want it to be a job where people come and get in line and we just recite how much it's going to be and what the availability is. We want to say, 'Let's talk about theatre. What shows have you seen? What show did you really enjoy? Where are you from and how did you hear about us?' To foster a discussion."

These conversations create a more engaging, inclusive environment throughout the line. When asked about his first visit to the Booth, Traupman says, "It was colder than you can imagine!" When asked about the Booth today, he says, "Now, not only do you take credit cards, but you have reps who are much more knowledgeable about the show, and now the options are just so much better. It's great for the theatre community. And I've been in line with people from all over the world!"

Indeed, McGloin says he's met patrons from as far away as New Zealand. "It says something symbolically about us that we're in the theatre district. People from all over the world have heard about this place; they're full of questions and we're the first people they talk to."

Of course, some things never change. Suzanne Parker visited TKTS when it opened in 1973 and many times afterwards, bringing her daughters to countless Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.

"I felt an obligation to make sure they enjoyed the great cultural amenities of New York City," she says. "TDF helped me to do that."

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Colin Groundwater is part of TDF's web services team