Survey Results Revealed! Why do people line up for shows so early?

I’ve been working on Broadway for 2.5 decades now, and a lot of things have changed over those years . . . from the types of lights we use, to how our customers order our tickets . . .to how long people wait in line outside the theater before a show begins!

I don’t remember people getting on the queue as early as they now do.  I’ve seen people in a line that wrapped around the block – an hour before a show was set to begin!

I always want to go up to them and say, “Hey, go get a coffee or a hot dog and come back at like 8:04.  You’ll walk right in, the show won’t start until 8:07.  You’ll be fine.”

But frankly, they’re so serious about standing in line, that I’m a bit scared to talk to them.

Seriously, why do they line up so early now . . . when they didn’t do it years ago?

Curious (and obsessive minds like mine) want to know.

Enter my crackerjack team of interns, who I sent into the streets of Times Square to survey those pre-show wait-ers to ask them my nagging question:  Why are you lining up so early?

In total, we asked over 100 people from all over the world that question, and we got some answers!  And, I’m going to share them with you now!

You ready?  It’s the first ever “Why Are You Waiting In Line?” Survey!

TIME THEY ARRIVED

  • 23% arrived 30-40 minutes early
  • 37% arrived 40-50 minutes early
  • 33% arrived 50-60 minutes early
  • 7% arrived 60 – 70 minutes early

REASONS THEY ARRIVED EARLY

  • 1.9% were on a school trip
  • 10.6% were meeting someone
  • 10.6% were handicapped or needed extra time getting to their seat
  • 18.3% like being early or arrived earlier than they planned
  • 22.1% were avid fans of the production and wanted pictures/merch or the opportunity to meet other fans
  • 36.5% arrived early for no specific reason except that they had nothing else to do

THINGS TO NOTE

  • The average group size of the “Early Arrivers” was 4.
  • The more popular the show (Hamilton, etc.) the more people lining up early and the earlier they lined up.
  • Many families expressed a desire to be there early because of the perceived difficulty of wrangling children in a theater.
  • This survey was done in the winter, which may have affected the results.  We’ll repeat again in a warmer climate!

What’s my takeaway from all this?

Well, people like getting there early.  That’s obvious to anyone walking by a theater on a Wednesday at 1:05 PM before a matinee.  But the 22.1% showing up because they’re superfans makes me think we’re missing out on an opportunity to make them even super-er-er fans.

What kind of content could we provide these Early Arrivers for coming early?

Maybe a pre-show?  A place to sit?  Free coffee?  “Previews” like at a movie theater?

Or . . . here’s a radical idea . . . maybe we should just open up our theaters for them to sit down earlier?

We need to do something.  Security is an issue with those people standing on the streets.  And it’s taking longer to get the audiences in our doors with the intense screening that’s popping up.

I just wonder if there’s a way to get ’em in and turn it into a marketing win.

Do you get to a show you’re seeing early?  Why?  And if you don’t, what would encourage you to do so?  Comment below!

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Comments
  • Lynn Anderson says:

    Excellent survey! I would venture to say it’s because it’s winter and people don’t know how the weather will affect travel. They also hope the theatre opens early so they can sit down inside instead of standing outside in the cold. Yes, why not open early? And also give them more things to do in the lobby, like more souvenirs, other shopping, or social media photo ops with cardboard cutouts of the stars?

  • Andrea Young says:

    I like to be at a theater between the time they open the doors to 15 minutes before hand. And now it seems like I have to get there earlier so I can be in my seat 15 minutes before the show. This is because I want to be able to use the restroom before the show starts and also I like to sit back and read the program before it begins. I hate rushing into a theater to sit down. I don’t like being rushed and I like to take the time to destress before enjoying a show. Especially if it’s a show where you could miss something in the first few minutes if you’re not 100% there.

  • Andrew Husmann says:

    Captive audience. Sell them something.

  • Brad says:

    Get them in early and have a pre-show discount at the bar or a special merch item that is only available between 7:00 and 7:30 (for an 8pm curtain).

    • Andrew Husmann says:

      Again…As “Brad” above agrees….Captive audience. Very few businesses have this level of emotion combined with an unmatched potential retail experience.You have a “store” that people want to get to the moment you open. You could probably open up AT LEAST at one hour for that super fan, pre-show experience. I wouldn’t want people breaking curtain of course…But maybe the swings or stand-bys could come out and host an event. Bring them in out of the cold? Maybe. Although..at least in the Summer… having that line out front says SOMETHING to people passing by…but don’t pass up this opportunity. These people want…Something…Anything…they can post about….A selfie with that special coveted “item”…that will connect them to the show on a higher level than normal, average Broadway fans.
      FUN

  • Love the idea of making an impression on the folks that are in line. A discount on some merch? A button that says I am seeing XXX on Broadway (selfie material) . I bet a lot of people line up early because they just laid out a ton of money and they want to make sure they don’t miss out by getting stuck in the subway or in a cab. Also, the whole neighborhood is much more pedestrian and hang out friendly than it was, even a few years ago.

  • Christopher says:

    As a tourist I like to arrive early to talk theater with others in line (or those seated next to me once inside). I don’t hesitate to recommend shows we’ve seen and enjoyed as well as welcoming others comments concerning shows we’ve not yet seen. Knowing that tastes vary I try to avoid talking down a show as well as being careful not to overly praise a show we’ve enjoyed. I’ve been fortunate to get turned on to show we might otherwise not have attended and have fortunately never been disappointed with any recommended show we have attended.

  • David says:

    Interesting Survey, I look forward to the warmer survey. We show up early say 15-30 before doors open. First to be able to go to the restroom before the show starts and as we all know restrooms are lacking at most Broadway houses. Another reason is to look at what souvenirs are for sale. Another Reason is to look around the house. I do stage lighting so I always enjoy looking at what lighting fixtures the LD has hanging in the house.

    My guess is the reason theaters do not open more then 30 min early is it gives the cast time to run scenes if someone needs some help. We went to see Frozen last March and had to wait about 35 min to go into the house due to the cast member running a scene. And if the house opened sooner the cast would end up having to get there sooner. Plus there are union contracts to follow.
    I don’t see this changing any time soon unless there is lots of money to be made LOL.

    • Kristi R-C says:

      Equity call is 30 minutes before curtain. The house could open earlier – for most shows a 15 minute earlier open wouldn’t matter at all.

      I , too, like to look at the lights.

      And theatre have gorgeous architecture, photos, posters, and other museum-like things to view.

      One of the BEST pre-show things is at Shea’s in Buffalo NY – a 30 minute organ concert with sing-along songs.

  • Edward says:

    I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I always get to theaters early is I’m so used to community theater/highschool shows where there’s no assigned seating. I guess it just got drilled into my head that if you want a good seat you’re in line when the doors open.

  • Rick says:

    Ahhh…Merchandising!!…I love this!!… “Maybe a pre-show? A place to sit? Free coffee? “Previews” like at a movie theater?”…. My Musical has a Pre-show warm up!…Thanks Ken!!

  • Neal Rubinstein says:

    I’m coming from L.I. and am tied to the LIRR schedule, which usually translates to 30-35 mins pre-curtain arrival. As previously mentioned, this does allow me to peruse the Playbill/credits before the show begins.

  • Lynn says:

    Anyone from NJ, LI or CT are there early because they know they have no control over the traffic and have to give time for delays! I hate being early but am often in that line because surprise surprise, the roads were fine.

  • I never understand why some theatres don’t open up the doors at half hour so people can get in and sit down. If you are not local you worry about finding parking or getting lost or being stuck in traffic or the train breaking down. If you have paid a lot for the tickets you don’t want to miss anything. For music concerts they encourage people to come early often because it’s open seating and they want to sell more beer. They even have opening acts so no one misses the one they came to see. I’m glad that’s not done in theatres because I enjoy having assigned seats.

  • Erin says:

    The reason theatres don’t open up earlier than half hour is because someone (several someones) also have to prep everything before those doors could be answered. More time before the show means paying SEVERAL more people some more money (theoretically, though sadly not all artists report overtime), or taking the chance that we won’t have time to fix something when we walk in, if they still only pay us the same time to start coming in. The lobbies are usually still open in the theatres where I’ve worked at least, to alleviate this, or sometimes there IS a preshow discussion, which does set off all of our preshow responsibilities. Sometimes those preshow discussions also forget to be told to the people involved in scheduling – as a stage manager, I always look on the theatre’s website, if I haven’t been able to talk with Marketing/Education first and there’s a surprise.

  • Katie says:

    Opening earlier means that all of your front of house, crew, stage management and in some cases, actors have to come in even earlier. On some shows we don’t even get a proper break on two show days. By all means, engage with them outside in line but please to open the house earlier.

  • Laura says:

    I’d like to echo what Erin and Katie said – so many people come to work in the theater an hour and a half before curtain (or even earlier) to prepare for the performance – we realize most of the audience doesn’t know this, but that’s what’s happening. Every element is checked, and if anything isn’t working properly, we only have that time to fix it.
    Seems like a good idea to open up the lobby early for events or extra merch/concessions sales, if that’s a possibility, but then those folks would be coming to work even earlier too. And two-show days especially are very long workdays for most of us.
    We work very hard to get everything ready and perfect before the house opens, but that does take time. And opening the house earlier would add extra time to our workday, perhaps even overtime (which producers I’m sure would be reluctant to pay).
    As for telling the audience to come at 3 minutes after the published curtain time, because the show won’t start until 7 minutes after…that seems like bad form. What if 800 of the 1600-seat house took that advice? How would they all get seated by 8:07? Don’t enough audience members show up late for curtain as it is?

  • Denise says:

    I am definitely an early bird to the theatre. I generally just don’t like rushing. I love the theatre and being inside the theatre and soaking it all in. One of the most memorable shows was because of what you are talking about, I saw ONCE in the West End in London. The stage was set up as a bar and they turned it into a “working bar” before the show, so you could go up on stage order a drink and hang around up there. Recently at a small theatre here in Sydney, very similar, you were invited to go backstage and walk onto the set and order a drink and the performers served you. It was so much fun and got the audience connected as well. There is definitely opportunity there to engage more before the shows. People want to be part of something there. Making it a more participating experience.

  • Louis Vasseur says:

    Great job identifying some new marketing potential. Excited also to hear this survey and it’s results discussed on the Today on Broadway podcast. Keep up the good work.

  • Rich says:

    Best bet is to open early & have a drop-down movie screen with capsule previews of other b-way shows. If all the b-way theaters did it everyone would win. Shows not interested could opt out & their previews would not be shown at the opt-in theaters. Would take a little finagling but could be a big adv winner for most.

  • Casey says:

    The theater(s) I work(ed) at (NJ) always open the lobby an hour before showtime. Not sure why Broadway doesn’t. You sell more merch/concessions. I guess the lobbies aren’t big enough…? Not sure why the doors wouldn’t be open at 1 for a 2 o’clock.

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