Hugh Southern passed away Monday, July 21, 2019 at the age of 87. That name may not sound familiar to most people, but for patrons of the theater in New York, Southern was a patron saint.
Southern was the acting chairman for the National Endowment of the Arts in the 1980s, later general manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera, as well as the first executive director of the then called Theater Development Fund, running the organization from 1968 to 1982. TDF is a not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts, dedicated to bringing the power of the performing arts to everyone, with a specific mission to sustain live theater and dance by engaging and cultivating a broad and diverse audience and eliminating barriers to attendance.
Southern oversaw development of the "half-price booth" in 1973 in the theater district. The booth, now known as TKTS, has become an integral part of the New York theater scene, selling more than 1.1 million same-day discounted tickets for the recent 2018-2019 fiscal year ending June 30. This accounted for 8% of the total Broadway ticket sales.
TKTS has been a great outreach in making Broadway more affordable and accessible. I know I've used the service with friends and family a couple of times to be able to enjoy spur of the moment shows.
Southern's life is a reminder that art should be accessible. That it needs an audience. What a great legacy he has left in that regard.