Pete Mannion still remembers his first visit to the TKTS Discount Booth in 1976. He and his whole family boarded the LIRR from Bayside, Queens for a Saturday in the city. After a visit to a beloved aunt on the East Side, the Mannions headed for Times Square and picked their entertainment for the day.
“My father got four tickets to the all-black revival of Guys and Dolls with Robert Guillaume,” Mannion recalls. “I said, ‘Oh, wow, Guys and Dolls,’ but I really didn’t know anything about it. We ended up loving it.”
Something similar happened when they went to see The Wiz the next year—although this time, Mannion says, his father was the sole adult chaperone.
“That was my father’s first experience taking the kids to the theatre without our mother, and when the show was done at the Broadway Theatre, he thought it would be fun to walk the 12 blocks back to Penn Station and see what 42nd Street was like,” Mannion says.
Bad idea: This was in the seedy old days when Times Square still felt very much like the set of Midnight Cowboy or Taxi Driver. “We got halfway down the block when he realized this wasn’t the smartest thing to do, and all we could hear him say was, ‘Don’t look at that! Don’t look at that!’ And we were like, ‘Why did you bring us down this block when we can’t look at anything?’ ”
The Mannions didn’t just use TKTS to sample Broadway: Pete also fondly remembers his parents buying tickets to The Fantasticks in Times Square, then trekking down to the Sullivan Street Playhouse in the Village for another transformative night in the theatre.
Somewhere along the line, young Pete decided he want to study acting, in addition to, as he put it, “seeing every Broadway show I could.” His family’s move to Houston, Texas, complicated this goal, but it didn’t stop him from making frequent visits back to New York—and to the TKTS booth.
“I saved $3,125 from waiting tables in Houston and went on what I called my ‘Rainbow Tour’ of New York, after Evita,” Mannion recalls. “I saw Nine, I saw Crimes of the Heart, I saw Joseph, I saw Evita, I saw Sophisticated Ladies. TKTS made my seeing all those shows possible.”
Indeed, what a theatre junkie like Mannion particularly relishes about his years as a discount ticket buyer is that he got to see some one-of-a-kind curiosities and misfires at less than full price.
“Do you remember a show called Metro?” Mannion asks. “It was a show with all Polish kids who didn’t know any English apart from the script. I saw Marilyn”—the famously ill-fated musical about the screen siren. “I saw Dance a Little Closer, which everyone called Close a Little Faster.”
It was that beloved East Side aunt who introduced the Mannions to the further benefits of TDF membership. Upon retirement, she was eligible to become a member, and she used the privilege to buy theatre tickets as gifts for the whole family.
One especially memorable tradition upheld by the woman Pete affectionately calls his “auntie Mame” centered around a holiday.
“Every New Year’s Eve she had a party, but before that we’d all go get tickets on the TKTS line, see the show, then go back to her apartment,” Mannion recalls. “They had earlier showtimes on New Year’s Eve, so we were always able to make it back. One time we saw Shadowlands with Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Alexander. Another time we saw Judith Ivey and Jason Robards in Park Your Car in Your Harvard Yard.”
When Mannion got his Equity and SAG cards as an actor, he was eligible at last to join the organization that had made so much theatre available to him over the years. It’s turned out to be a lifesaver in tough economic times.
“It certainly helps in this economy,” Mannion says. “I thought my theater days would be severely cut after last fall.” To hear him list the shows he took in this past season, that was not the case: He used his TDF membership to get tickets for Dividing the Estate, Speed-the-Plow, American Buffalo, Pal Joey (“ ’cause I’m a Stockard freak,” he explains), Becky Shaw, August: Osage County and 9 to 5. He saw two shows twice: 33 Variations twice and 39 Steps. He still hopes to nab tickets for such well-reviewed, Tony-nominated shows as Exit the King, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and The Norman Conquests.
Bringing his theatregoing story full circle, Mannion’s day job is as an escort for School Tours of America, which brings young folks from all over the country for an action-packed trip to the Big Apple. Mannion’s job is to help shepherd the youngsters to Broadway shows, dinner and hotels. In other words, like his father decades ago, Mannion is leading young people through Times Square—with the big difference being that the area is now as family-friendly as a theme park.
Times and neighborhoods may change, but one thing has stayed the same for Pete Mannion.
“The TKTS line and TDF have been prominent fixtures in my life and my family’s life,” he says.