Stage Seating Tickets on Broadway - Audience seats that are actually on the stage of the Broadway show
Broadway stage seating is a relatively new phenemonen, where a special section for the audience is created right on the stage. The decision to do stage seating is usually made for artistic reasons. For instance, in the recent Broadway revival of the play Inherit the Wind, in which a teacher is on trial for teaching evolution, the audience is serving as a kind of jury. The onstage audience for Michael Frayn's 2000 play Copenhagen, which depicted an important meeting between two famous physicists, served a similar function, acting as spectators at a debate.
Other Broadway shows that offered ostage seating are Xanadu and Spring Awakening. The onstage seating for these Broadway shows doesn't have quite the aura of seriousness that the above-mentioned examples do. Xanadu is a very energetic and silly show, so the audience is simply expected to have fun. Spring Awakening actually does have serious themes, and the audience is supposed to represent a kind of extension of the repressive society that the show's teenage population lives in -- however, because the youthful cast spends much of the show rocking out to the frenetic score, the onstage audience is sure to find the rock 'n' roll spirit infectious.
Several years ago, when Broadway musicals (most notably Rent) began offering $20 tickets for the front row, the fans were thrilled to be able to sit so close to the action. But now onstage seating allows some shows' fans to feel like they're practically in the action. In the recent Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a few audience members (who had submitted their names in the lobby prior to showtime) truly were in the show, sitting on bleachers with the actors and actually participating in the spelling bee until they were eliminated.
Broadway onstage seating isn't for everybody, though. Shy people need not apply! Thousands of people out in the audience will be able to see you up there, so you might feel quite self-conscious and possibly even distracted from the show itself. However, most audience members are going to be focusing their attention on the actors, and it's not like a spotlight will be shining on you or anything, so sitting in the stage seats shouldn't be too embarassing.
High Risk=High Reward
Although onstage seating can add an interesting element to a Broadway show, in addition to providing audiences a unique way of seeing (and hearing and feeling) the drama, there are disadvantages to onstage seating. The stage audience is stuck looking at the backs of the performers during much of the show, making stage seats a kind of obstructed view. Being so close up they are also unable to appreciate the full "stage picture", which means that the onstage audience is liable to miss out on some of the dramatic action, as well as simply being unable to appreciate the complete artistic vision of the director and designers. And while it's wonderful to hear the actors' natural singing voices without amplification, the sound mix is likely to be unpredictable up there, so there is a good chance that a lot of dialogue will be hard to make out.
But onstage seating doesn't just affect the people in those seats. On more than one occasion, we have noticed somebody in the onstage seats napping during a performance, which draws amused reactions from the audience and is a bit of a morale-killer for the actors up there working so hard to entertain everybody. If someone sitting onstage is disruptive in any of the many other ways that common Broadway audience members are (talking, fidgeting, eating, flipping through the Playbill), it's going to be a hundred times more distracting since the inappropriate behavior is obvious to everyone in the theater. Fortunately, the ushers are usually good about stopping these problems before they start by prepping the stage audience beforehand (at Spring Awakening, patrons can't even have their Playbills until after the show).
An Accident Waiting To Happen
Some Broadway shows with onstage seating present their own unique challenges. For instance, in Spring Awakening, ensemble cast members are "planted" in the onstage audience -- they actually come in with a ticket and act as though they're regular audience members. Then, during the show, these actors suddenly stand up and start singing back-up during certain songs. This can be pretty disorienting to the real onstage audience, who wonder what the heck is going on. It also might be a provacation for a more bold audience member who is hoping to make his or her Broadway debut, whether asked to or not. It's only a matter of time before someone like this decides to pretend to be a cast member and stands up and sings along. Of course, they wouldn't be miked, so nobody could hear them -- it would just look bizarre.
Getting The Stage Seating Tickets
Onstage tickets tend to be very popular because they appeal to people who want a truly visceral theatrical experience. They also appeal to people who just want a good deal on their Broadway tickets. Onstage seating tickets are always considerably cheaper than regular Broadway tickets, usually half or even just a third of the cost of full price tickets. Each Broadway show that offers onstage seating has its own policy regarding the sale of the stage tickets, so it's best to ask the box office what you need to do to get them. Some will only allow you to buy them a month in advance, and you may only be allowed to purchase them at the box office or through the internet, not by phone. The onstage tickets sell fast, so you have to be on the ball.
Also, a word of warning if you decide to get onstage tickets: DO NOT BE LATE! They won't do late seating for these seats, so you'll have to stand in the back or possibly even in the lobby until intermission. In the case of a intermission-less show like Xanadu, if you're late, your forfeit your onstage seat completely. And be aware that you will have to put all your personal items in a locker (which the theater provides) prior to the performance.