By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The iconic TKTS booth in Times Square has just turned 40 – and one of Brooklyn Heights' own chairs the group that created the concept and has kept it rolling in good times and bad.
“It's extraordinary it has been alive so long,” said Earl Weiner, the chairman of the Theatre Development Fund, a group created in 1968 to aid then-struggling Broadway.
“It has sold 58.5 million tickets,” he said of TKTS, which also proudly operates an outlet at Downtown Brooklyn's MetroTech. “We've brought $1.9 billion to the industry.”
Not-for-profit TDF operates the booth in Duffy Square, which sells discounted same-day tickets for Broadway and Off Broadway shows.
“It was an experiment – in a temporary booth until five years ago,” said Weiner, who settled in Brooklyn Heights in 1968 after his graduation from Yale Law School. “It was rivaling the Eiffel Tower as the world's longest-standing temporary structure.”
The temporary booth, opened in 1973, got a glam rebuild in 2008.
The TKTS booth enables the non-profit to carry out its “basic mission” to put New York City theater within reach of people who can't afford full-price tickets, he said.
TDF also runs programs that allow students to attend theater for free and provides signing and captioning services for the hearing-impaired and audio descriptions of plays for the visually-impaired. It sponsors special performances of Broadway shows for families with autistic children.
“Producers help us by toning down their productions; in 'Mary Poppins,' they omitted a scene,” he explained.
As part of the 40th anniversary festivities for the Times Square TKTS booth, Weiner joined a celebratory crew that sounded the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday. Laura Osnes, who plays Cinderella on Broadway, did the actual bell-ringing.
“Cinderella pushed the button; I stood by to make sure she did it right,” he joked.
Weiner, who joined TDF's board in 2005 and was elected its chairman in 2008, was bitten by the theater bug while an undergrad at Dickinson College.
“My wife Gina and I met when we were in a play together freshman year,” he recalled. “It was a silly one-act play called 'The Potboiler.' We were the villains. Our characters were Miss Pencil and Mr. Inkwell.”
Weiner, who was an English major, continued to act throughout college.
His love for the theater continued while he built a career as a lawyer at Sullivan and Cromwell, where he specialized in corporate finance, corporate governance and investment management law. After 30 years as a partner he retired, and remains of counsel to the firm.
“I'm passionate about theater for multiple reasons,” he said. “It's something that makes your life richer. It's an interactive experience with people who are performing live.
“There's nothing like live theater.”
Weiner, who served as a U.S. Navy officer from 1961 to 1965, is also the board chairman of The Acting Company, a touring troupe that gives young, classically trained actors a chance to use their skills professionally. It was founded in 1972 by John Houseman and Margot Harley with members of the first graduating class of Julliard's Drama Division, including Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone.
Going forward, the Theatre Development Fund is pushing full speed ahead with a program to increase attendance at Off-Off Broadway shows with $9 tickets the organization subsidizes.
And to further spur purchases of other types of discount tickets, TKTS announced Wednesday that it is launching a “7-Day Fast Pass.” Buyers of TKTS tickets can take their ticket stubs to Window Number 1 in Times Square within seven days of their initial purchase to get ducats to another show – and bypass long waits in the lines for the general public.
Also, TDF is finishing the rebuilding of the South Street Seaport TKTS booth, which was knocked out of commission by Hurricane Sandy. It is expected to reopen in the next month or so.
Weiner and his wife chose Brooklyn Heights as their home on the recommendation of a law-school classmate. They stayed and raised their daughter and son Melissa and Barr in the neighborhood, sending both to Packer Collegiate Institute and Princeton.
“Gina grew up in Forest Hills Gardens,” the Baltimore native said. “Neither one of us knew Brooklyn.”
Though Brooklyn Heights was just one subway stop away from his Wall Street law firm's office, it was a wonderful refuge.
“You felt immediately you were in a palpably different place,” he said. “The pace and the tone quieted. You felt as if you were in a 19th-Century village.”
Forty-five years later, he finds the Heights still functions like an old-time village.
“You know your merchants; you know your neighbors,” he said. “There's a real community.
“New York City is filled with small communities that are like villages.”
In addition to his volunteer leadership of the two theater organizations, Weiner has been deeply involved in Brooklyn organizations.
He is a past president of the Brooklyn Heights Association and the Heights Casino and a former chairman of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Currently he co-chairs the Garden's Campaign for the Next Century fund-raising drive. He also currently serves on the boards of Green-Wood Cemetery and The Brooklyn Hospital Center.