Open Admission

High Culture on a Low Budget

Pity the poor student, freshly arrived in the cultural capital of the nation and too strapped for cash to fully enjoy all the art New York has to offer. Our former führer, Rudy Giuliani, loved to complain about obscene art in the city's museums. What's really obscene is their admission fees: $8.50 at the MOMA (even at its Queens exile); $9 at the American Museum of Natural History (the Hayden Planetarium, IMAX movies, and special exhibits cost extra); $9.50 at the Whitney; $10 at the Guggenheim—and those are the student prices. That kind of money's better spent on school-related expenses, like textbooks or drugs.

But who says you have to suffer financially for art? You can get more Monet for your money if you go on "pay-what-you-wish" Fridays (4 to 7:45 p.m. at MOMA QNS, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Guggenheim, 6 to 9 p.m. at the Whitney). The Brooklyn Museum of Art, the city's second-largest, has free admission the first Saturday of each month (except September), from 5 to 11 p.m.

Beware the powers of intimidation, however. Even the ostensibly pay-what-you-wish Met tries to guilt-trip students into making a "suggested donation" of $7, or $12-plus if there's a blockbuster exhibit. Suggest this: loose change (but not quarters—those are for laundry). They may give you a dirty look, but you'll still get in.

Too bad there's no such thing as "pay what you wish" on Broadway. Forget TKTS. Who needs to stand in line with tourists all day long for just a 50 percent discount? Student rush tickets (a limited number set aside at the box office) are much cheaper. For example, 25 bucks and a school ID will get you a seat at the revival of Gypsy with Bernadette Peters (evening performances, Monday through Thursday only).

Other shows sell discount tickets by lottery, so instead of lining up all day, you may actually get to squeeze in a class or two before curtain. At the long-running Rent, seats in the first two rows are only $20, sold through a lottery in front of the theater two and a half hours before the show. Hairspray's lottery ($25 a ticket) is also two and a half hours before curtain time. The Sesame Street spoof Avenue Q holds theirs at 5:30 p.m. for the evening performance, and at 11:30 a.m. for the matinee; tickets are a very un-Broadway-like $21.25.

If you think it's next to impossible to get a seat at The Producers or at the all-star Long Day's Journey Into Night(closing August 31!), you're right—but you can still line up at the box office for standing-room-only tickets on the day of the performance (Tuesday through Friday $26; Wednesday $21; weekends $31).

And if even that's too much for your budget, consider the time-honored Broadway tradition of second-acting. Here's how it goes: You show up in front of the theater during intermission—usually 9:15-ish, although you might have to case the joint beforehand to make sure—when all the smokers are loitering outside. Then, when the lights dim, you sneak in with the crowd (ushers never check the stubs), find an empty seat, and enjoy all of Act II for free. (Act I is nothing but exposition, anyway.) This tends to work better if you (a) smoke, (b) clutch a rolled-up Playbill, cover facing inward, and (c) look like you've paid $100 for your tickets.

Now, don't try to pull this stunt at The Producers when Nathan Lane comes back, obviously, or at any hot-ticket show. Steer clear of anything advertised as a "limited engagement." But those shows two or three years into their run, now starring a B-list sitcom has-been? Piece of cake.

Speaking of has-beens, I once saw Pavarotti in Puccini's Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera for about the price of a movie ticket and popcorn. Not bad, considering that the people seated directly in front of me had paid 10 times as much for the privilege. Standing room at the Met is not only a tradition that harks back to the 19th century, it's truly one of the best bargains in town, starting at $12 a ticket depending on location, more for special events. Orchestra spots afford better views, but true connoisseurs swear that the Family Circle, all the way up against the flaking gold-leaf ceiling, offers the most glorious acoustics in the house. Standing-room tickets are available only at the Met box office; they go on sale every Saturday at 10 a.m. for performances that day and the following week. Although it's not impossible to score a spot on the same day (call ahead to find out: 212-362-2000), nabbing a hot ticket (next spring's Ring cycle, for example, or anything with Domingo) means lining up at dawn on Saturday. If you do, bring your Discman. The line is crawling with creepy geeks who will talk your ear off about how no soprano today can hold a candle to the great Maria Callas. And there's just no shutting us up.

 
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