Dear Acting Diary: Waiting in Line for Shakespeare in the Park
6:00 a.m. I wake up and gather a small collection of equipment and provisions for the day. My goal is to join the line in Central Park to get free tickets for The Public Theater’s
Twelfth Night with Anne Hathaway. My girlfriend Carrie is planning to meet me later in the day and possibly swap me out of the line so I can come home and sleep. The free tickets are given out at 1 p.m. One person can get two free tickets. I emphasize that these tickets are free.
6:45 a.m. I arrive at 81st and Central Park West. I have a folding chair, backpack, and blanket. A man spots me.
Man: Are you going to Shakespeare in the Park?
Man: Don’t bother, they have limited tickets tonight and the line is already to the reservoir. They just told us to leave.
Me: I’ll check it out anyway. I want to snap a picture of this.
The man throws his hands up in a mix between being pissed off and “it’s your funeral.”
6:50 a.m. As I approach the line I see an exodus of individuals and families, clutching lawn chairs and coolers, walking in the opposite direction.
6: 52 a.m. I get in line. I can’t quite figure out where the line ends because most of the people at the end are fleeing. To add to the confusion, some are just sitting in their chairs in the park, saying that they’re no longer in the line. It’s madness.
6:55 a.m. I’m still in the line but worried. Everybody says it’s a lost cause. The security dude tells us there is no chance of getting into the show. He says on most nights we would stand a chance but tonight is a special “corporate sponsor night” and a lot of tickets have been reserved for the corporate sponsors. They have no idea how many tickets are set aside for the public. (Then why do they call it the Public Theater, I snarkily think to myself). I’m still in the line. This is Carrie’s only chance to see the show and figure it’s worth a shot. Why not? It’s a nice day. Where else would I spend it? The only thing that has me worried now is that people aren’t sitting down. They’re still standing in line. I don’t know if I can stand until 1:oo p.m. Also the line is bunched and it’s ambiguous who is in front of who.
7:10 a.m. People are leaving the line. It’s shrinking. This gives me hope. I pray for rain to wash away the rest of the folks. I’m sitting on my chair now but I’m in the middle of a walkway intersection and am afraid some upper west sider is going to make some snide comment about my blocking the way and hurt my feelings. I resolve that I am strong enough to deal with it.
8:30 a.m. I’m not in the crosswalk anymore. I’m on grass with my fold up chair. I’m content. I know who’s in front of me and who’s in back of me. The girls behind me get pooped on by some birds and move their blanket. In my paranoid head I start to think that they are forming a plot to steal my space which involves blasting me with their loud conversations and inching their blanket ahead of me. The security guard suggests we leave and enjoy our day doing something worthwhile.
9:00 a.m. My space is fine. I can’t believe how paranoid I was. People seem to be quite chatty. I’m afraid that if I start getting involved in any conversations I’m going to have to continue them until 1:00 p.m. when the tickets are handed out. I foresee all sorts of fake chuckles, ‘oh really’s,’ and zombie-like nodding. I feel shame about my Seinfeld-Larry-David-esque pettiness and tell some folks about the time I slept overnight to get tickets for The Seagull with Merryl Streep and various other big names. It wasn’t worth it, I explain, because I was too tired to enjoy the play. People ask me to tell them more of the night I spent waiting for tickets. I indulge their fancies.
9:10 a.m. Another guy, who is still standing said he overheard that I slept overnight to see The Seagull. He saw it too. Small world. He says he’s going to give up on the line. He leaves. This experience is starting to remind me of The Long Walk by Richard Bachman.
9:15 a.m. The security guard comes up to our section of the line. He tells us our chance of getting in is now “slim to none.” It’s a step up from “no chance.” The line celebrates.
9:17 a.m. The security guard tells us the rules:
- No leaving the line unless it’s too the bathroom or food stand at the theater.
- No swapping in the line, i.e. no one can come replace you in the line while you go home and sleep.
- No cutting.
- If people come visit you, to bring food, etc., they can not joing the line and must be separate of it.
He tells us that anyone caught breaking and/ or facilitating the breaking of these rules will be bounced from the line. Note: He didn’t say anything about spitting or going topless.
9:18 a.m. I talk with Carrie on the phone about the no swapping rule. Our plan is ruined. I don’t mind waiting all day. I have recently discovered that I’m happiest when I’m outside and here I am, living the dream. Carrie says she’ll be up soon anyway.
9:30 a.m. One of the women waiting in front of me is joined by her husband and toddler son. The husband doesn’t really join the line and nobody says anything to security. The son pushes his toy ball around on a stroller. It’s adorable.
9:45 a.m. Carrie arrives with food. We have a nice picnic. I give my chair to a woman who has been standing most of the time. I feel like I’m part of a new family.
10:00 a.m. Two women behind me get hit repeatedly, like seven or eight times, by birds pooping on them and their expensive purses. They scream each time.
Carrie takes cover while our neighbors are about to be shat upon.
What the New World Order breadlines will look like.
This dude with the hammock was legend. Up and down the line, his tale traveled.
Does Shakespeare plus Celebrity equal ‘New Religion?’ You do the math.
11:00 a.m. I take a cool photo of a bee. What beautiful creatures. What simples pleasures. What a nice day I am having!
12:00 p.m. Stories travel the line of ten souls being bounced for breaking the rules. We all rejoice that their expulsion increases our chances.
12:15 p.m. We’re told that at 12:45 we will have to form a single file line. This means all camping gear, picnics, and lawn furniture must be folded up.
12:20 p.m. Carrie tells me she ran into a guy who asked her where the standby line forms. He said he got there around 8 a.m. but left the line. Carrie explained to him that the ticket line automatically turns into the standby line once all the tickets are dispensed. Carrie also said she mentioned something to the gentlemen that she had to leave soon herself. The gentleman asked to have Carrie’s spot in line. Carrie declined and told him he had to go to the end of the line.
12:45 p.m. We start to form the single file line. The tickets will be handed out at 1:00 p.m. The line collapses significantly with everyone’s stuff put away. Everyone who was not in the line since this morning is asked to step to the side. Carrie steps to the side. The guard asks if anyone has any objections to who is in front of them or behind them in line. There are no objections. The line is at peace.
12:50 p.m. The man Carrie told me about earlier is wandering around the line.
1:00 p.m. Why am I so nervous? The slow crawl of the line as tickets are being dispersed is painful. The line moves in starts and stops as people go up to get their tickets. This is by far the worst part of the day. Screams of joy come from the beginning of the line. We have no idea how many tickets are left. We’re told that once the tickets are gone, they will give 50 vouchers for standby tickets to the next 50 people in line. Each voucher entitles the person to two canceled tickets that they have to claim between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. (or something like that). The vouchers don’t guarantee tickets but the staff tells us everyone with a voucher has gotten into the show in the past.
1:20 p.m. I can see the Delacourte Theater. I can see people getting tickets. I am close!
1:25 p.m. I am really close. People are cheering. But something strange is happening. People in the front of the line are going off to the side. What’s going on?
1:30 p.m. I am around twenty people from the front of the line. The staff member dispensing tickets gives the security dude a big “X” with her arms. No more tickets. No more vouchers.
1:31 p.m. The security dude tells us that we are given first preference for waiting in the standby line. There’s no guarantee of getting tickets in the standby line. Some days they give out 80 tickets in the standby line, last night they say, they only gave out five. It’s a rough scene. Carrie has to leave for an audition. I decide to stay in the line. I’m having fun. I feel like I’m on a people watching safari.
1:32 p.m. The security guard states that a rock will serve as the beginning of the standby line. The gentleman who Carrie spoke to me about immediately sits on the rock. The line protests. The security guard tells the man that he is not the front of the line. The man says that he is just sitting.
1:35 p.m. The security guard is going down the line and asking people if they want to be in the standby line. It makes the formation of the standby line unambiguous and orderly. I join the standby line. A couple people in front of me who I’ve been chatting with also join the line. There’s one problem: the dude that Carrie told me about is still sitting on the rock.
1:40 p.m. The line alerts the security guard about the cutter sitting on the rock. At first he says he’s not in the line, then he asks the security guard to pretend he doesn’t exist. Then he says numerous people can vouch that he’s been in the line since 8:00 a.m. He says he came from Brooklyn. He gets bounced and goes to the end of the line. It’s awesome. Partial video of the bounce below.
1:55 p.m. My two comrades in front of me have left the line. Their main reason is that they only stand to get one ticket. One of my comrades thinks long and hard about this decision before exiting. It’s a tough call. We’ve been sticking it out since 6:45ish a.m. What’s a few more hours? Besides, it’s beautiful out. If I get a ticket, I decide, I will give it to Carrie. We can work something about my getting inside.
2:00 p.m. I am fifth in the standby line, behind a gentlemen as well as a woman with her two nieces.
2:30 p.m. Carrie returns from her audition and joins the standby line at the end. The standby line is relatively short. It’s worth a shot. We made it this far. Carrie showers me with snacks.
3:00 p.m. I have one of the most restful naps in my life under the trees.
5:30 p.m. I’m taking pictures with my camera. One of the girls in line in front of me offers to take a picture of me.
5:31 p.m. I now have photographic proof that I am a creepy thirty year old dude who hangs out in the park all day.
6:30 p.m. The line starts hassling the security dude about information on tickets. The line is met with silence. The standby voucher folks start returning to claim their tickets.
7:30 p.m. The standby voucher people are beginning to receive tickets. The standby line stands strong with no news.
7:32 p.m. Carrie tells me that these two women next to her in the line were talking about how they had an extra ticket once and this little old lady was standing outside the theater asking for tickets. They gave the elderly woman a ticket and later found out she sold it. Carrie says she brings this up because she’s pretty sure she saw the old lady in the bathroom, feebly begging “Does anyone have a n extra ticket?”
7:33 p.m. The old lady emerges from the bathroom. She looks like she’s barely five feet, 102, and can’t weigh more than a hundred pounds. “Does anyone have an extra ticket?” she softly begs from her walker. The two young girls in front of me go nuts. This old lady is public enemy number one. Carrie doesn’t know if it’s the same woman the two women were talking about, but it sure sounds like it. The woman in front of me with the two girls says that the old lady probably needs the cash for an operation. Carrie reminds everyone it might not be the same person that was being described to her. The dude who’s first in line takes matters into his own hands and tells the two cops patrolling the scene. He says he doesn’t buy the old lady bit and informs us that “a lot can be done with makeup.” We see cops approach the old lady. The girls go to watch the bust go down. The cops laugh as they give the old woman a warning. She leaves the area.
7:40 p.m. A dude all dressed up and ready for a night on the town comes up to me. He says he has a voucher. His wife is on her way. He needs someone to stand with him when he gets the tickets otherwise, he’ll only get one. I tell him no way I’m risking losing my spot in the standby line. He begs me. I tell him to ask someone further down the line who doesn’t have as much to lose. The dude who’s first in line, again, puts on his “enforcer” hat. He tells the dude he is breaking the rules and is endangering people’s chances of getting a ticket if they help him.
7:50 p.m. A woman comes up to the front of the line in an expensive looking shirt. She’s holding two tickets. She announces that she just bought these tickets and wants to make sure they are not fake. She was wondering if anyone could look at them. Someone in front of me asks her why she bought the tickets. The woman replies “I heard it’s a really good show. I couldn’t wait in line so I thought I would just buy some tickets.” This she says to the people in line since 7:00 a.m. The dude in front of the line, again, pops into action. He notices the tickets while saying “Twelfth Night” also have “NEDERLANDER THEATER” printed on the bottom. He tells the woman “let’s ask this guy if your tickets are real,” and walks her over to the security guard. The two girls run to watch the unaware woman get busted. I see the security guard put his hand on the woman’s shoulder and look at an email she shows him on her blackberry. The girls tell me she was crying, spent $100 on the tickets, and was saying that she felt worse about being duped than about losing the cash. The guy in front of the line was happy that the woman provided a description of the suspect.
7:55 p.m. All the standby vouchers are gone. No news for the standby line. It’s rough. On a side note, that dude who was looking for a placeholder to get his ticket–his wife showed up just in time.
8:04 p.m. Victory! I receive a ticket as do several of my comrades. My ticket has its stub ripped off, unlike the others. It looks looks like we’ve both had a long day.
8:05 p.m. All of the standby tickets are released. There are no tickets left. I give mine to Carrie and tell her that I’ll wait outside. It’s sad that we both can’t get in, but it’s still a victory.
8:10 p.m. I run around the outside of the Delacorte trying to see a good place to catch the action from outside. The entrances give a small view into the theater and the sound system is piped outside the theater too so I can hear everything. I try going up to Belvedere Castle to see if I can see the show from there. No dice. The stupid set blocks the view.
8:15 p.m. I resign to sit on a bench outside of the theater and just listen to the show. It sounds great.
8:20 p.m. I get a beer from the concession stand. The sky’s getting dark. The weather’s amazing. The bench is comfortable. It’s probably more fun out here. It’s like a radio drama. I’m laughing out loud a certain parts. I’m having a great time!
8:22 p.m. I see a guy in a sports jacket with a headset outside the theater. He is running frantically.
8:24 p.m. It looks like all able bodied male staff are being called to a disturbance in the show.
8:26 p.m. An usher tells me and some other people hanging out on the benches that if we get a ticket stub from anyone leaving during intermission we can enter the theater after intermission.
8:30 p.m. I hear that a man bit one of the ushers and that the security dudes jumped on top of the man and subdued him.
8:35 p.m. A van full of cops dressed in dumpy summer gear show up with badges around their necks. They enter the theater. The show is still going on.
8:40 p.m. An ambulance pulls up.
9:00 p.m. I think about getting another Bud Light, I have just enough cash on me. Then I think of what it will look like when I, unshowered with a beer in my hand, am begging for a ticket stub to enter the show. I also consider just hanging out on the bench, I think I’m enjoying the show more. And I also get to catch the actors running back and forth, raiding the snack bar.
Here’s a poor quality video that gives you a little bit of a picture of what it’s like to check out the show from the benches outside.
9:40 p.m. Intermission. It’s go time. I walk down to the ramp where people exit. I see a couple other folks down there waiting for tickets. I stand next to a mother and her teenage son. I watch their technique. It consists of looking longingly at people as they pass then shrugging their shoulders. I bump it up a notch and yell “IF ANYONE IS LEAVING AND CAN GIVE ME YOUR TICKET STUB, I CAN WATCH THE SHOW! AND SO CAN THESE TWO PEOPLE NEXT TO ME!” We get more offers than we need stubs. I meet up with Carrie. I don’t get to sit next to her but I get in and we can both enjoy the show together, separated by a few rows. Note: After I’m seated I spot the old lady that was accused of scalping in the audience.
10:00 p.m. The show’s lots of fun. Everyone’s great, especially Anne Hathaway and Audra McDonald. Sir Toby’s hilarious. But to be honest, I kind of enjoyed it more on the benches outside the theater. I don’t know if it was that the benches were more comfortable or that it was just more fun for me to listen–not to discount the hilarious staging (a raccoon even entered the stage shortly after intermission). But still it’s a good show all around.
10:50 p.m. It’s over. I feel like I’m just getting off a vacation. I want to meet with everyone who I stood in line with and talk about old times. See how they’re doing. Maybe they’ll leave comments below. I’m just glad I didn’t listen to that dude who stopped me as I entered the park. I had lots of fun that I would have missed out on if I listened to his lame ass.