Who Else Misses Old-Fashioned Theatre Tickets?
Monday, July 02, 2018  •  
Mon Jul 2, 2018  •  
Broadway  •   2 comments Share This
"Once my tickets were torn, I would save the stubs, taping these talismans into the Playbills I saved as additional mementos of the magic."

One veteran theatregoer pays tribute to a lost tradition


At least I didn't have to worry about forgetting the tickets. In my many decades of theatregoing, that had only happened once. But now, so much else could go wrong. For Disney's Frozen, my phone was my ticket. Technologically challenged as I am, I only chose this new-to-me option because it was the cheapest way to purchase the rather expensive seats.

As performance day approached, anxiety overtook me. My phone could malfunction, or even die at the crucial moment -- that had been happening a lot lately. One false move by any of my ten thumbs could result in a setback of several web pages, and I envisioned a long line of impatient people behind me, all more adept at this process than I. And how to prove that I had bought the special limited-edition glass snowflake Christmas ornament as a ticket add-on to surprise my husband? Nothing was clear to me, except the potential for disaster. Why, oh why, couldn't I just have traditional theatre tickets?


I used to love traditional theatre tickets. When I started attending theatre over a half century ago, a little cardboard placard, scarcely four inches long by two inches wide, was all one needed to gain admittance to an alternate universe where marvelous things might happen. Tickets came in many colors, each denoting a different section of the theatre. Black ink in a straightforward typeface conveyed the name of the show; name and address of the theatre; section name; row letter and seat number.

Once my tickets were torn, I would save the stubs, taping these talismans into the Playbills I saved as additional mementos of the magic. Cue Magazine published a soft-cover guide called Stubs, with seating diagrams of all the Broadway theatres. I kept an annotated copy, outlining the different seats I had occupied on my theatrical adventures.

Everything changes. As I reached adulthood, technology began to have a major impact on the theatre business. Computer-generated tickets were bigger and printed in a generic font, and there was less variety in color. They no longer evoked anything special. Scannable barcodes made tearing tickets unnecessary, so no more stubs.

The internet altered the experience further. It enabled people to order theatre tickets online, thereby enriching various intermediaries with "processing fees." Following the lead of the airline industry, theatres made it possible to print tickets at home, saving producers money while undoubtedly costing others business -- perhaps even their livelihoods. After a while, customer-printed tickets became the only delivery option that didn't involve an extra "postage and handling" fee.

I live in New York City, so I can still go to the box office to buy impersonal -- yet tactile -- cardboard tickets, saving onerous online fees. Nowadays, however, internet sales precede the opening of the box office by several months, making for slim onsite ticket pickings. For someone such as me, with a Christmas-mad Disneyphile and Frozen fan for a husband, there was only one choice.


On the fateful day, my phone didn't die and my fingers never slipped. We breezed through the ticket checkpoint (ticket "takers" having gone the way of tollbooth collectors) and joined the impeccably organized queue for Disney concessions. I was able to keep the web page active on my phone to prove I had purchased the ornament and, later on, to show the usher where our seats were. I even remembered to turn my phone off before the show started. (Not everyone did.)

I will always recall my husband's look of surprise and delight as he opened the box with the ornament. We may not have stubs to help us remember that night, but at least we have a snowflake.


Daniel Guss is a native New Yorker. During his career at RCA, he reissued over 1,000 compact discs, ranging from the recordings of such classical superstars as Arturo Toscanini, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Rubinstein, Enrico Caruso, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leontyne Price, and James Galway, to classical music compilations and Broadway cast albums.

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troy segal said:
Oh, I miss traditional tickets too. That lovely font that, while originally straightforward, began to look more and more artistic as it became outmoded. We even had a metal key ring (remember them?) in the shape of a ticket. And they were much more compact than e-ticket printouts, too.
Posted on 7/6/2018 at 9:57 AM
Damian Begley said:
Great article, Daniel. I too save my stubs despite the encroaching technology (and I don't own a cell phone). But now some theaters only have the playbill online!
Posted on 7/8/2018 at 9:46 AM
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