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Cheap Theater Series | Win the Lottery

This is the second post in my Cheap Theater Series where I’ll give you some creative ideas on how you can go to the theater and other live performances at a low or even no cost. You can read the first part of this series here.


When I talk about winning the lottery I’m not referring to winning millions of dollars from the national lottery, or going to the casino to win money at the slot machines. The lottery I’m referring to is the theater lottery.

We’re Not Gonna Pay…Ok, We Are Gonna Pay

I will make no attempt to hide my love of musical theater, but my favourite musical (for subjective and sentimental reasons) is Rent. I first saw the show as an angsty 15 year old and I fell in love. There was about a 6 month period in 1999 where the only CD I listened to was The Original Broadway Cast Recording of Rent (I do tend to get a little obsessive with music). I went to touring productions of the show in Edmonton and Calgary (twice). In January 2010, a friend and I flew to Toronto to see the final Broadway tour of Rent, which featured some of the castmates from the original Broadway run.

Our tickets for Rent were not free or cheap. They were definitely over $100, and that was for the front row of the balcony. There are experiences worth splurging for, and for my friend and I seeing the final Broadway tour of Rent in Toronto was one of them. We were happy to pay this price for the tickets (plus spend money on airfare, hotel for a few nights, etc.). While we were there for the show, we found out that they had a lottery, and both my friend and I knew we had to give it a go.

What Is A Theater Lottery?

When Rent first opened on Broadway in 1996, it got popular pretty fast. The lottery gave people a chance to win two $20 front row tickets to the show. Broadway musicals can be expensive, most tickets are $90+, so this was a way of giving people who may not have been able to afford tickets, a chance to see the show.

Essentially the lottery works something like this. You stand in line outside the theater an hour or two before the show. You enter your name into a draw to win a cheap ticket (or pair of tickets depending on the show). Lottery winners are randomly drawn, and the winners go in and purchase their ticket(s). The purchase needs to be done in cash right away, so you need to have enough money to cover the ticket cost if you win. The tickets won’t be free but compared to regular price tickets they are a great deal.

Everything Is Rent

The first time we tried to win the Rent lottery we had no luck, but we loved the show enough we were able to get some cheaper (compared to the regular price) tickets. Being part of the lottery lineup was about more than the possibility of winning cheap tickets. This was an opportunity to Renthead (a term for Rent fans). It was a chance to say I stood in the cold with other Rentheads, and to be a part of the Rent community. It was easy to strike up a conversation with the people around us since we all shared a common interest.

Some Rentheads standing outside of The Canon Theatre (Ed Mirvish Theatre) in Toronto hoping to win lottery tickets.

People standing outside of The Canon Theatre (Ed Mirvish Theatre) in Toronto hoping to win lottery tickets to Rent.

After talking to a lady who was in line with us my friend and I decided to go for the lottery one more time on January 23, our final afternoon in Toronto. As we stood in line, I could see many familiar faces from the night before. People were singing songs from the show, and we chatted with people behind us, swapping stories and sharing our love for the show. We wished each other luck and went in to write our names in for the lottery draw.

No Day But Today

The usher came out to announce the winners. Everyone cheered and clapped when each name was called. Then I heard my friend’s name being said. It didn’t register at first, because the man announcing the lottery winners didn’t pronounce her name correctly, but soon it sunk in that we had won.

I pride myself on being a pretty calm and rational person. There aren’t a lot of crazy fangirl moments I’ve gone through in my life, but winning the Rent lottery was one of them. Did I scream and jump and down? Yes. Did I proceed to call my family and friends and leave a bunch of nonsensical and excited voicemail messages? Yes. Did I cry? Yes. Was I a complete fangirl? Oh god yes.

So yes, it was a total fangirl moment for me, but it was an amazing experience. The tickets were only $20 and we got to sit in the very front row. These seats were so front row that we were sitting on folding chairs in front of the regular seats. My friend and I were literally right in the center of the row. It was a very surreal experience. Everything we had enjoyed about the show from the previous performances was magnified by that lottery winning performance. I got to see little details in the props and on stage that I wouldn’t have been able to notice from our balcony seats before. I took a mental note of everything I could, writing it in my journal on the plane ride home. I got to see a show I love three times, and in a way I never imagined. It was awesome.

Should You Try For The Lottery?

Lotteries are available for a lot of shows in New York, although I’ve only ever done the lottery for that touring production of Rent in Toronto. That being said not every show or theater venue holds a lottery. You will want to contact the box office ahead of time to find out if a lottery is available. Don’t make the assumption that lotteries are only done for the big shows in New York City. Even if you’re in a smaller city, or getting a touring production it never hurts to ask if there is a lottery. The worst that can happen is you find out there isn’t one.

The downside to a lottery is that it is a lottery. You might win, but you might not win. If the show is one you really want to see then, you may want to purchase a full price ticket. That all depends on you, but if you are flexible, and don’t mind spending a few hours in line you could be the next (theater) lottery winner.

Other Contests

Originally this post would be over by now, but a couple weeks ago I won a contest from a local newspaper to see a magic show that came to the city where I live. While this was a small production and regular tickets were not very expensive it brings to light another point – you can enter contests to try to see shows for free. Again it’s not a guarantee. If you want to see a show, you may have to pay for tickets. Still keep your eyes open for local newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets to see if there is a contest to win tickets to a show you want to see. You may also want to check local theater and theater companies in your area (or the area you’re traveling to) to see if they have contests for shows.

Have you ever won a theater lottery or free tickets to a show?

4 Responses to Cheap Theater Series | Win the Lottery

  1. Mary @ Green Global Travel March 10, 2014 at 8:28 PM #

    Thanks for this information. I will definitely try it out. I’m glad you tried again and won! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing.

    • Alouise March 11, 2014 at 6:30 PM #

      Glad this post could help you out. I’m a big fan of entering contests like this, because there’s always a chance you can win.

  2. Lindsay March 14, 2014 at 11:52 AM #

    That’s a hilarious story Alouise! I can just see you jumping up and down, clapping, crying! It’s so fun to win something πŸ˜‰ Never tried the lottery. I always worry that I won’t win and will be stuck out there twiddling my thumbs!

    • Alouise March 16, 2014 at 2:17 PM #

      Well technically I only won by proxy (since my friend was the winner), but it was a fantastic experience. I’d encourage you to try out for the lottery if you’re interested. Even if you don’t win the experience is fun, and there may be regular tickets left for the show.

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