Times Square is the Crossroads of the World, the place where the ball drops to mark each new year — and also, for half a century, the location of TKTS. Yesterday, the Theater Development Fund (TDF) celebrated 50 years of ticket selling at the famous red steps in Father Duffy Square.

TKTS 50 Times Square
TKTS celebrated its 50th anniversary in front of the iconic red steps in Times Square. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“Broadway is New York City. People think New York City, they think Broadway. And do you know that we sell more tickets on an annual basis to a Broadway show than all 10 professional sports teams from this area combined — by 25%?” said Broadway League President Charlotte St Martin. “One of our primary goals is to make sure that Broadway is accessible to everybody, and TKTS helps us do that. Broadway is responsible for 97,000 jobs. It supports not only our 41 theaters, but it also supports our hotels, restaurants, parking garages and other attractions. TKTS’ red steps are now known worldwide. Visitors know there’s a place they can go as soon as they get into the city and get a ticket that night.”

The TKTS concept came from very humble beginnings back in 1973. “TDF approached me and my business partner John Schiff to design a temporary structure around a trailer for $5,000,” said Bob Mayers, partner at Mayers & Schiff, the architectural firm hired to design the original half-price ticket booth in Duffy Square 50 years ago. “We came up with the name TKTS and built the piping and canvas sails above the structure. It’s mind-boggling that over the course of 50 years the TKTS mark has become an internationally recognizable symbol of theater. It just goes to show that you never know what impact your work will have.”

John Schiff (left) and Bob Mayers at the ceremony in Times Square. They designed the original half-price ticket booth in Duffy Square 50 years ago. Photo: Phil O’Brien

TDF’s TKTS same-day discount theatre tickets for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows celebrated its golden anniversary with a special proclamation from the City of New York, accepted by actress S Epatha Merkerson, a medley performance by the Broadway Inspirational Voices, and various activities such as sing-alongs and trivia. Over its 50-year history, TKTS, which made Broadway more accessible to those on a budget, has facilitated new audiences, with over 30% of customers attending a Broadway show for the first time.

The TKTS service has become a symbol of theater worldwide, serving as a model for discount ticket booths in cities from Boston to Sydney. The current booth, located under the red glass steps, opened in 2008. Over its half-century operation, TKTS has managed 68.6 million admissions, generating over $2.68 billion in revenue for thousands of productions. The minimal service charge goes towards booth operations and funding TDF’s various programs, further promoting the accessibility and influence of the performing arts.

Charlotte St Martin Broadway League TKTS
Broadway League President Charlotte St Martin (left) and Anne del Castillo, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, at the celebrations in Times Square. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Despite facing the economic turmoil of the 1970s, TKTS has emerged as a theater staple — even though “a lot of people said it would never work.” Its creation came about as an initiative to make theater more affordable and attract young people to the theater amid the city’s financial crisis and the seedy reputation of Times Square.

The establishment of the booth was not without hurdles. The original proposal for a half-price ticket booth was met with skepticism and was almost sidelined for further study. The perseverance of Anna E Crouse, a TDF trustee and one of the founding figures of TKTS — and others — ensured the project came to fruition. Despite challenges like crime in Times Square and doubts about the public interest, the TKTS booth was launched and quickly became a significant draw for theatergoers. It played a pivotal role in revitalizing Times Square, proving the skeptics wrong and marking a major victory for the theater community.

Since its inception, the TKTS booth has undergone expansion and modernization to continue serving the theatergoing public. By 2006, demand necessitated a larger space, leading to the construction of the Red Steps and the new booth. Today, TKTS is an essential part of the New York theater scene and Times Square, serving not only local theatergoers but also tourists from around the world. The booth and its broader impact reflect TDF’s mission of making the performing arts accessible to all, a legacy that carries on even as it enters its sixth decade.

TKTS booth 1973
The original TKTS booth in 1973. Photo: TDF Archive

Read more of TKTS’ history in W42ST’s article TKTS Turns 50: “A Lot of People Said It Would Never Work”

Deeksha Gaur New boss TKTS TDF
Deeksha Gaur will become Chief Executive of TDF in August and was introduced at yesterday’s event. Photo: Phil O’Brien
tkts red steps
The famous TKTS red steps at night. Photo: TDF Archive
During the pandemic, the TKTS booth was shuttered. Photo: Phil O’Brien
The TKTS steps being cleared of snow in winter 2021. Photo: Phil O’Brien
tkts times square
TKTS is readying to celebrate 50 years in Times Square. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
YouTube video
During the pandemic, the TKTS red steps became a gathering place as NYC came back. Video: Phil O’Brien

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