Urinetown: The Privilege to Pee When Seeing a Broadway Show
This topic might seem vulgar to some, and I apologize if you find it to be, but I want to address a very real problem that faces many of us who choose to spend a day (or weekend or week) in the Theatre District of Broadway. It’s a complaint I hear far too often, and one that has shaped my experiences (and no doubt countless others’ enjoyment) when I choose to see a Broadway show. There is a lack of accessible toilets in the area that do not require careful planning and the occasional scheming to survive a day on theatergoing.
To begin with, most of us know that the number of toilets in most Broadway Theatres are notoriously few. Before the show, at intermission, after the show, the lines that protrude from the lavatories are long and slow-moving. The shortage of women’s toilets is a problem in many event locations outside of Broadway, but the situation seems exacerbated on Broadway by very narrow portals leading to a handful of stalls nowhere near plentiful enough to accommodate the large female-going theatre audience. In fact, I do not even know how most of the ladies get through the line and back to their seats during intermission. I see that look of panic on all your faces. For the record, the situation is not really that terrific for men. Broadway is one of the few places I see men waiting in lines to use the bathroom, and once you get in, you are often standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the urinals. I had an uncomfortably tight squeeze with an older gentleman on one side and Matthew Morrison on the other while seeing Pippin a few years back.
The theatres, however, cannot be entirely to blame for the problem. In fact, there is a larger issue. Where in the Theatre District can you just go to the bathroom before a show, between shows, or while you are enjoying the sights and sounds of Broadway? If you take a trip in for the day, you are spending at least eight hours wandering around. You are going to have to pee. Restaurants might be a choice, but that usually means you must buy something to attain the privilege of using their facilities. Times Square and its surrounding establishments are not known for their inexpensive eateries. Are you willing to drop $5 or $10 so you can simply use a clean toilet?
Those of us who have been around for a while know of a few tricks (if you plan them carefully and geographically). You can always duck into Port Authority Bus Terminal to use a restroom, though they are not conveniently-located anywhere near the doors. That can be a twenty-minute proposition. There is a public restroom near the subway entrance at Bryant Park, but this scenario involves holding your breath and entering a toilet that will bring back memories of movies like Trainspotting and The Shawshank Redemption. One of the best places to go is in the Marriott Marquis Hotel, taking the elevator up to a floor (I can’t remember which one), full of shops that also happens to have public restrooms. The Marriott people may or may not appreciate this suggestion, but they are, bar none, the cleanest and most centralized toilets in the Theatre District. During the holiday season, Charmin sponsored public toilets in the old Colony Records store, but that was a limited time only thing. There are also certain community spaces around the area that offer free Wi-Fi and that also have restrooms on their premises.
It seems to me that, with Times Square and Broadway one of the most traveled areas of NYC (and the world), that there would be better options for one to relieve oneself. Even pay toilets in a central location would be better than the options we have. I know I would willingly drop a $1 for the convenience. Though it is slightly inhumane to make people pay to use the bathroom (I recall a line from Urinetown, “Penny for a pee, sir?”), I’m not opposed to forking over some change for the convenience. I can’t believe that some company (or even the city itself) hasn’t thought to do this (on second thought, do we really want the MTA regulating bathrooms?). Better yet, why doesn’t the city acknowledge that an estimated 500,000 to a million people travel through Times Square each day and that a large faction of those people probably will need to take a leak? It’s about hospitable tourism, creating an environment that is in tandem with the needs of those pouring a great deal of money into the local economy. People go to the bathroom. It’s a fact of life. Make it easier for them.
Until a solution presents itself, I wish you god speed as you wend your way through the throngs in search of restroom. If a toilet presents itself, I highly suggest you avail yourself of the privilege when it does. Plan carefully. So what if dancing on Broadway only means crossing your legs and doing the jig while you wait at the TKTS line?