Special Reports

Story of the Week: Free Broadway for Furloughed Feds

Producers offer free tickets to federal employees left in the lurch by the government shutdown.

Chilina Kennedy stars in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway.
Chilina Kennedy stars in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway.
(© Joan Marcus)

As the partial shutdown of the federal government approaches its sixth week and 800,000 federal workers mark another Friday without a paycheck, the theater community is stepping in to help. Specifically, the producers of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical are offering free tickets to furloughed federal workers for select Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday evening performances.

"If we can offer those affected by this shutdown a moment of escape and joy, then we feel it is important to do so and is truly the least we can do," said producers Paul Blake and Mike Bosner in a statement. Some might respond that Carole King's marital problems are the last thing anyone wants to think about when they're struggling to pay their rent, but we at TheaterMania consider theater to be essential to a happy life. That's why this welcome act of generosity is our story of the week.

Who is eligible for free tickets?
All furloughed federal employees are eligible. That's the roughly 800,000 Americans who have not been paid since December 22, when the federal government shut down over a budgetary impasse concerning $5.7 billion for a southern border wall, which Congress (at the time, completely controlled by Republicans) declined to appropriate. President Trump has vowed not to sign a federal budget unless it contains money for his wall.

Until then, roughly 380,000 workers have been told to stay home, including most staffers at NASA, the National Park Service, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Provided they live in New York and can schedule around their Uber shifts, they should have no trouble catching a show. Theater scheduling might be harder for the roughly 420,000 people who have been ordered to work without pay, including those in Customs and Border Patrol, the TSA, and the Coast Guard. IRS employees have also been ordered to work without pay to facilitate tax season.

Furloughed feds in New York can obtain their free tickets by walking up to the box office of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on West 43rd Street and presenting their government ID. The offer is good for the length of the shutdown, which is already the longest in American history.

The Lincoln Center is home to both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
The Lincoln Center is home to both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
(© Robert Mintzes)

Is Beautiful the only show available?
Beautiful is the only Broadway show available (for now), but there are other cultural events around town: The New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera are each offering two tickets per furloughed fed for a bunch of upcoming performances. While the Met's offer is good only through the end of the month (the opera company is wisely hedging its bets that this will not be resolved anytime soon), that still includes performances of the acclaimed new production of Adriana Lecouvreur and that perennial favorite, Carmen.

Is this just a publicity stunt?
While cynics might frame the Beautiful offer as the story of a five-year-old Broadway musical using a national crisis to get some attention during the tourist low season, those on the rialto know better: Broadway producers are rarely cynical. How could they be when they work in such a notoriously volatile business, in which most shows never turn a profit? Truly, this is a business in which the rate of return is tabulated in dreams, so here's hoping that the dreamers producing the 28 other shows on Broadway follow Beautiful's lead and pony up some tickets. With the average price of admission approaching $300, it might just be the best opportunity for federal workers to see Hamilton. (What would he have thought of all this?)

Is this happening only because Broadway is full of Democrats?
The offer is open to all furloughed federal employees, including Republicans (who are actually more numerous in the federal service than the president claims). And while those employed on Broadway (and in most creative fields) skew Democratic, everyone (including die-hard supporters of President Trump) is welcome to attend a show — but you might want to leave your campaign signs at home:

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