Shakespeare In The Park

Every Summer the Public Theatre puts on an eight week showing of Shakespeare In The Park. They have a beautiful, intimate stage nestled in Central Park. The stage is open to the elements and only seats about 1,500 people. Tickets are free and every person in line is eligible for two tickets. But getting in that line, well…

Recently the Public Theatre has been putting together outstanding casts for their Shakespeare In The Park showings. This summer featured actors like Al Pacino, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse L. Martin. Between the cast and the amazing reviews, the interest in the theatre has seen a drastic spike. I decided to camp out the night before the closing performance to stake my place in line and get tickets.

I camped with two of my friends- we showed up around 11:00pm (Saturday night) at 81st and Central Park West loaded up with a tent, sleeping bags, a cooler of Belgian beer and a bag full of deli sandwiches. Oh, and the dog came too. We spoke to a haggardly looking woman who told us quite bluntly that she was first in line. We thought we would be camping inside the park, but she enlightened us on this as well. We would, in fact, be camping on the sidewalk along Central Park West until 6am, at which point we would then be transferred into the park where we would wait in line some more until tickets go on sale at 1pm.

And so we walked to the end of the line which at this point was between 86th and 87th. There we pitched our tent as the line continued to build behind us. It became quite clear that this was a dog-eat-dog line with strict rules- like no one was allowed to join the line, nor was anyone in line allowed to leave for long periods of time. The deal with tickets is this: the theatre gives out an unknown number of tickets each day, usually between 400 and 1,200 tickets depending on how many “donors” received their tickets first. At this point we were about 300th in line. Crazy lady #1 had been waiting since 4pm. We were camping on the streets of NYC to be in a line that didn’t guarantee us anything. Hmm…

We woke at 5:30am after a few shaky hours of sleep. The street lights didn’t go off until about 5am. So strange to be camping around concrete and lights. We were hurriedly shuffled into the park at 6am where threw our sleeping bags down in the grass and tried to sleep again. The line was the most eclectic group I have ever seen- crazy #1 up front, then groups of homeless, scalpers, and crack heads (I’m talkin crack viles laid out in the open) mixed between college students, people on macbooks, hippies, older people, you name it. And the gear people brought to lay on was just as eclectic- anything from cardboard boxes to blow-up mattresses to actual full-size mattresses to chairs and living room furniture.

When the line finally started moving around 1pm, tensions were high. A lot of people were pretty upset with the groups of scalpers who would be turning around and selling their *free* tickets for $300 a pop. A lucrative endeavor, sure, but a disgrace for “public” theatre to be supporting crack habits. When we got close to the box office, they actually ran out of tickets, but we got #40 and #41 out of 50 vouchers. What happens is at 6:30pm, we were supposed to come back, and vouchers get (in chronological order) any cancellation and/or open seats. If all the vouchers are sat, the people left in the standby line get seated.

So we came back at 6:30pm and waited. And waited. The show started at 8:00 and by 7:55 it looked pretty hopeless. The scalpers (some of which had front row center seats) were getting desperate, but many of us were irritated and did our best to interfere with business by shouting things like “don’t buy from scalpers.” They didn’t appreciate us so much, and I got a little concerned when someone said “scalp the scalpers,” followed by, “ya, kill the scalpers.” Rut roh!

But just as the show was starting, the guy from the box office came out again, this time with a big stack of tickets. After 21 hours of waiting, we finally had tickets in hand and were ushered into the theatre. We were pretty delirious at this point since we really hadn’t slept at all, but somehow it all seemed worth it. The theatre was beautiful, the cast was amazing, and there we were, on closing night of Merchant of Venice with FREE tickets. From here the play will go to Broadway, but nothing beats waiting in line with NYC’s finest…

Waking up in Central Park

Guy from a nearby deli selling egg sandwiches

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2 Comments

Filed under Humor, NYC, Story, Storytelling, Travel

2 responses to “Shakespeare In The Park

  1. Ashleyy

    Wow, there better be something this awesome for us to do when I’m there!! (: <33

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