UPDATE 4/6/16: The Hamilton lottery is now digital only. You can now enter the lottery here.
Last week I was visiting New York. I’d hoped a few months ago to buy a ticket to see Hamilton, but on a single mom’s budget even one ticket was out of my price range. Almost every show is sold out for months and the only seats available are scalped tickets for exorbitant prices.
Everyone wants to see this show. Everyone. President Obama saw it (twice!). Beyonce was in the audience. It is the ticket du jour and shows no signs that that will change any time soon. So for the poorer among us, the lottery is our best shot.
I scraped together a bit of information on the internet but I was mostly clueless about how the lottery would work, so I decided to compile together the information for everyone. The very patient people who run the lottery were very kind to answer a few of my questions, and their expertise combined with my experience trying it twice during my visit to NYC last week can hopefully have your bases totally covered.
If you haven’t used a lottery system for a show before, here’s a quick summary. Often a show will save a few seats each day to be given away at a drastically reduced price using a lottery system. It started back with Rent, once one of the hottest shows on Broadway. Given that Rent was about impoverished Bohemian types, it made sense for them to offer tickets on the cheap to an audience that could relate. They sold the front two rows as rush tickets for $20, first come first serve. But when it started getting out of hand they switched to a lottery system, which is the most common you’ll find now.
Some shows have gone digital and use the app TodayTix for a lottery to save fans the trouble of waiting in line, but Hamilton is old school.
Tickets in the Hamilton lottery are $10, cash only. (Who’s on the $10 bill? Yup, that’s why they call the lottery #Ham4Ham, one Hamilton for another.) Lottery seats are for the first row, and occasionally there are standing room only seats as well. There are 21 seats given out in the lottery, not including SRO. The number of standing room seats will be announced at the time of the drawing. When I was there they had 4 available.
A few lotteries have been cancelled in the winter due to inclement weather. You can check with the box office or follow @HamiltonMusical on Twitter to confirm.
The Richard Rodgers Theater on 46th Street, it’s just West of Times Square, next door to the Marriott Marquis, and across the street from Finding Neverland. The closest subway stop is 49th street for the N, Q, and R.
The lottery starts 2.5 hours before the show and names are drawn 2 hours before curtain. Check the official Hamilton site to confirm times, but generally shows are at 7 pm Tuesday and Thursday; 8 pm Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; with a 2 pm matinee on Wednesday and Saturday; and a 3 pm matinee on Sunday. (Sometimes there is a 7:30 pm show on Sundays. Schedules vary.)
There is generally a line that forms ahead of time, but it’s not necessary to get in it. Just make sure you arrive by the time they close entries 2 hours before curtain. Once the lottery begins, things move quickly. One night when they were particularly busy, with around 800 people attending, everyone was easily able to enter in the 30 minutes. (But not so easily able to fit in the cordoned off waiting area.
I arrived around 5:10 on a Wednesday for a 5:30 lottery with a 6:00 drawing to try for the 8:00 show. The next day I came at about 4:20 for a 4:30 lottery with a 5:00 drawing to try for the 7:00 show.
I know you’re young, scrappy, and hungry and you do not want to throw away your shot, but even Alexander Hamilton takes a little advice from Aaron Burr sometimes. It’s time to wait for it, time to talk less and smile more, time to acknowledge that you are the one thing in life you can control.
Let’s be honest, if we all approached the lottery like we’re Alexander Hamilton, the lottery would have to close. So roll with it and have fun. There’s a real buzz in the air, a strong sense of community, and everyone is pretty nice about celebrating the people who win.
If you arrive early, don’t worry too much about the size of the line. After all, someone has to win.
Now for my special tips for extra good juju.
You’re Gonna Need a Right Hand Man
You can enter for 1 or 2 tickets. But if there are 2 of you, both of you can enter for 2 tickets. You keep out of trouble and you double your choices. If you go solo, just find someone near you in line who’s also going it alone. But I saw at least 3 people win tickets who’d only put in for a single, so it’s definitely not impossible.
Note: Ham4Ham has gone digital for the winter, but Lin has promised it will return in the Spring with a new setup. You can watch digital Ham4Ham shows on the Hamilton Musical Youtube channel or catch them on Nonstop Hamilton.
One of the biggest draws at the Hamilton lottery is the #Ham4Ham show. Cast members and other performers from around Broadway will usually put on a short performance for the people waiting at the lottery. The performance takes place just before names are drawn.
Ham4Ham generally takes place on 2-show days before the evening performance, so usually Wednesday and Saturday. Expect a much bigger crowd at Ham4Ham, the Wednesday one I attended (the first #Ham4Holidays performance with the Broadway Inspirational Voices) had around 800 people. When I asked the staff about it, they confirmed it was a very heavy day, one of the busier ones they’d seen.
But even though your odds go down, the fun goes up. If you haven’t seen any #Ham4Ham videos, you should seek them out. The universal favorite has quickly become this performance from just a couple weeks ago, featuring all 3 men who have played King George III in Hamilton performing as the Schuyler Sisters.
There are occasionally #Ham4Ham performances off the usual schedule, your best bet is to keep tabs of Lin Miranda’s Twitter feed.
The Story of Tonight
Once the entries are all collected, there’s a countdown and then a quick recap of how it’s going to work. I recorded a quick video:
The line for the lottery is on the sidewalk on 46th Street but as soon as you fill out your slip and enter you are hustled to the street where there’s an area cordoned off for people to wait. Though there are still random passersby on the sidewalk in the midst of this insanity. (That’s why you see randoms during Ham4Ham videos.) On busy nights the crowd can get rather unmanageable, especially since this generally goes down during rush hour. But the staff assures me it stays pretty peaceful and positive, though there was this one time a couple ladies were throwing elbows and Lin Miranda had to tell them to stop.
Enter your slip. Enter only once. They know you’re trying to cheat and they will stop you, so don’t try. Step aside and enjoy the company of other serious theater nerds all united in one cause.
What to Do If You Lose
The odds for the Hamilton lottery are tough, even on good days. Have a plan to do something fun to console yourself. I totally get that even when you go in expecting to lose, something about being RIGHT THERE outside the theater is so energizing that you find yourself in a weird pumped-yet-melancholy place after losing. Take your right hand man and go do something kickass, whether it’s grabbing cheap tickets to another show from the TKTS booth down the street or eating a great meal or retreating back to your home or hotel to act out your own version of the musical to the soundtrack.
Good news, though, even if you lose, you can ask to go into the theater when they open just to buy merch. Though you can also get some of them online, including the limited-edition tee I purchased. (I went high nerd and got the #YAYHAMLET tee.) Prices at the online store look to be the same as the theater store, if you’re curious.
Or, you know, if you just want to put your headphones back on and start the soundtrack again while you walk the streets of New York City, you can do that. (My favorite walking-through-the-city songs are Dear Theodosia and Wait For It.)
What to Do When You Win
Scream like a maniac, of course. It honestly doesn’t matter what advice I give you or what you plan because if they call your name or your right hand man’s name, time speeds up and you have no idea what you are saying or doing. My friend Becky’s name was called and I’m pretty sure there was a lot of screaming? It’s a blur, sir. I’m also pretty sure I squeaked, “That’s my buddy!!!” far too loudly.
I cannot really explain how it feels to win the Hamilton Lottery because I’ve never won anything that exciting or that I wanted that badly before. I was going to have to wait until far into next year to buy a ticket and paying for even the cheap seats would be a real sacrifice, so this was so perfect and so wanted I can’t even tell you. Words fail.
But once you calm down and remember what words are and your hands stop shaking, you have important business. You have to buy your tickets as soon as they’re done calling the winners, so have your $10 or $20 (for two of you) ready. CASH ONLY. They’ll give a wristband to the winner to prevent scalping, and then you’ve got 2 hours where you’ll be giddy and high on adrenaline. You may want to have a plan on what you’ll wear if you’re in your grungy street clothes, and you may want to have a plan about where to eat.
You should definitely use this time to brag to all your friends on social media in all caps.
Some of your friends will think you won the actual lottery that gives you money. You will need to correct them and tell them you’ve won something far, far better.
Eat and drink strategically because the last thing you want to do is get up to pee in the middle of The Schuyler Sisters.
Be cool. Do not be the girls down the row from us who had elaborate choreography and too-loud screaming that were so bad that the cast reported them to the ushers. Seriously, that is the worst. Let everyone have their moment.
Because it IS a moment. And while it’s easy for me to say this having won, there’s something about being in that front row that goes beyond the slight fatigue in your neck muscles that comes from looking upwards for 3 hours. There’s something about knowing that YOU, the people of the lottery, the ragtag band of misfits who found your way to the greatest city in the world with only a dream, are so close to the stage and the cast that you could reach out and touch them.
If you happen to be in my seat, you may find that you make eye contact with Lin Miranda so many times that you think you’re now officially friends. (Or maybe it was just something about my aura that kept drawing his eyes back. Who knows? More data is needed.)
One of the most beautiful things about sitting down to watch Hamilton and having that triumphant experience is that you realize that this happens almost every night of the week. That nearly every day, a few lucky souls take their seats to revel with some rebels.
If you have already had the soundtrack on repeat for days or weeks or months, it will all feel so familiar and yet entirely new. And they are all just RIGHT THERE. Actual breathing, singing, moving beings. (Also you will realize that while you figured out the Laurens/Philip and Lafayette/Jefferson dual roles that you totally missed Hercules Mulligan/Madison because he’s virtually unrecognizable and Okieriete Onaodowan is some kind of crazy genius.)
Oh, and be prepared for serious tears. And not just your usual orphanage tears. We’re talking a whole other level of tears. Y’all, I wept all through Satisfied because I love Angelica so much and I was right there and she will never be satisfied, and will any of us ever be satisfied??? Bring tissues.
When it’s over, that double adrenaline shot of live theater plus lottery winning will not fade quickly. A large glass of wine didn’t dull it. I barely slept that night. I could not settle. I could not calm. I was wound up in the best way and unable to stop it.
And when your life begins anew the next morning, wear the Hamilton tee you just bought and make sure that you find a way to insert winning the Hamilton lottery into every conversation. Celebratory dancing and jumping is welcome. (Well, maybe not welcomed by others, but totally welcomed by me.)
You may want to consider getting on the inspirational speaking circuit. Because you have been touched. The world turned upside down.
Have questions? Drop them in a comment and I’m happy to see if I can answer them for you!
Are you obsessed with Hamilton? Welcome to the club. Here you can find out ALL the info on how to enter the Hamilton Lottery. You can also catch up on Hamilton news at my new site, including a collection of ALL the Ham4Ham videos.