Cheap Theatre Series – Win the Lottery

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This is the second post in the Cheap Theatre Series. Here I give you creative ideas on how you can see live performances at a low or even no cost. In this post, I’ll talk about winning the lottery to see free shows (and not how you might think). The previous post in this series is below.
Part 1 – Volunteer to See Free Shows.


In this post, the lottery doesn’t refer to winning millions of dollars or going to the casino. The lottery I’m talking about is the theatre lottery. I love musicals, but my favourite (for subjective and sentimental reasons) is Rent. I first saw this musical as an angst-filled 15-year-old, and I fell in love. There was a six month period in 1999 where I only listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Rent. 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 its final Broadway tour, which featured some of the cast from the original Broadway production.

Our tickets for Rent were not free or cheap. They were over $100 for the front row of the first balcony. There are experiences that I believe are worth splurging on. Getting to see the final Broadway tour of Rent was something my friend and I were happy to spend our money on. While in Toronto we found out that Rent was having a show lottery. We had to enter.

What Is A Theatre Lottery?

When Rent first opened on Broadway in 1996, it got popular fast. The lottery gave people a chance to win two $20 front row tickets to the show. Broadway musicals can be expensive, and the show lottery allowed people who may not have been able to afford tickets, a chance to see the show.

A show lottery works something like this. You stand in line outside the theatre an hour or two before the show. You enter your name into a draw to win a cheap ticket (or a pair of tickets depending on the show). They randomly draw the winners, who need to buy their tickets in cash right away. The tickets won’t be free but compared to regular price tickets they are a great deal.

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My Experience Entering The Theatre Lottery

The first time we tried to win the Rent lottery we had no luck. We were able to get some cheaper (compared to the regular price) tickets for the next day. Being part of the lottery lineup was about more than the chance to win cheap tickets. Queuing outside the theatre was an opportunity to be with fellow Rentheads (a term for Rent fans). It was easy to strike up a conversation with the people around us since we all shared a common interest.

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

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. It was our final afternoon in Toronto. As we queued, I could see many familiar faces from the night before. People were singing songs from the show, and we chatted with people behind us. Everyone started swapping stories and sharing our love for Rent. We wished each other luck and went in to write our names in for the lottery draw.

Winning The Lottery

The usher came out to announce the winners. We cheered and clapped when they announced each name. Then I heard my friend’s name. It didn’t register at first because they mispronounced it, but suddenly I realized we won. Well, my friend won, but she won two tickets, so I won in conjunction with her. Thanks, Tracie.

I’m usually a pretty calm and rational person. There aren’t a lot of crazy fangirl moments I’ve had in my life, but winning the Rent lottery was one of them. Did I scream and jump up and down? Yes. Did I proceed to call my family and friends, leaving them a series of hysterical and nonsensical voicemail messages? Yes. Did I cry? Yes. Was I a complete fangirl? Oh god, yes.

Getting lottery tickets for Rent was a wonderful experience. We only paid $20, and we got to sit in the very front row. These seats were folding chairs in front of the regular front-row seats. My friend and I were right in the centre of the row. It was a surreal experience. Everything we enjoyed about Rent was magnified during the lottery winning performance. I got to see little details in the props and on stage that I couldn’t have seen before. I took a mental note of everything I could, writing it in my journal on the plane ride home. On this one trip to Toronto, 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 big shows in cities like New York and London. That said not every show or theatre venue holds a lottery. Be sure to contact the show or box office ahead of time to find out if a lottery is available. Don’t assume theatre lotteries only happen in New York City or London. Even if you’re in a smaller city, it can’t hurt to ask if there is a lottery. The worst that can happen is finding 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 want to see and it’s likely to sell out, then you may want to buy a ticket in advance. However; if you are flexible, and don’t mind spending a couple of hours in a queue, you could be the next (theatre) lottery winner.

Note: since publishing this post many theatres and shows do their lottery online or through an app. The Today Tix App for iOS and Android will let you enter show lotteries in many cities this way. Some shows (like Hamilton) use an app specifically for that show. Double-check the show’s website and theatre to see if there’ll be a lottery you can enter. The nice bonus with app/online lotteries is you don’t have to stand outside to enter as I had to with the Rent lottery. If you win, you can usually pay for the tickets with a credit card or debit card on the app right away. And unlike in-person theatre lotteries with online lotteries, you can often enter a lottery several days in advance.

Other Contests

A few weeks ago I won a contest from a newspaper to see a magic show. While this was a small local production, it reminded me there are other contests to see shows for free. Again there’s no guarantee you’ll win. Still, keep your eyes open in the media and online for legit contests to win show tickets. Be sure to follow theatre companies on social media as many will have contests for show tickets as well.

Things You Should Know
Lottery tickets vary on the specific show. The best thing to do is to contact the show venue ahead of time to find out if the show has a theatre lottery. It would suck to stand outside in line for two hours for a show lottery that isn’t happening.
Another option is to use the Today Tix App for iOS and Android. It lets you enter show lotteries for several cities through the app, so you don’t have to stand outside in line. You can also get cheap same-day tickets through the app if you don’t win.
Enter the promo code JGZYL to save $10 off your first show with Today Tix.

Is there a show you would want to win the lottery for?


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4 comments on “Cheap Theatre Series – Win the Lottery

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

    • 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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