This morning, my darling daughter and I went on our annual wait-for-free-tickets-to-Shakespeare-in-the-Park outing. For those who aren’t familiar with this annual event, you can read more about it here. We’ve been enjoying this wonderful festival for many years, long enough to see and experience changes in ticket disbursement policy.
In the early eighties, we used to picnic along the edge of the Great Lawn. At one o’clock, vouchers would be handed out, each one to be redeemed for two tickets which would be handed out at six o’clock when everyone who was going to the play had to be present in order to get the tickets. We’d get to the park around ten o’clock, play cards, eat delicious food, catch some rays, and make a day of it. We had to make a day of it, since we’d lose our place in line if we left. That could be a problem. The other problem was the friends who’d show up just before the vouchers were handed out, so suddenly your place in line got moved back by A LOT! Not pretty.
Eventually, the system was refined so that numbered vouchers were handed out. We no longer had to wait in the park all day, late-arriving friends could still cut in line ahead of you, and your complete party still had to return at six o’clock to get the tickets. Still ugly.
When the Great Lawn underwent its massive rehabilitation in 1995 after the premiere of Disney’s Pocahontas, the line for the Delacorte Theatre was moved to the path that runs next to the building housing the rest rooms and behind the marionette theater. By this time, they were finally giving out tickets instead of vouchers. So each person in line got their two tickets and didn’t have to hang out in the park till showtime. Better…but you still had those friends arriving just before the tickets were handed out to join the one or two placeholders. Lots of unhappiness if you’ve been waiting in line all day thinking you were a cinch to get tickets, only to be blindsided by the twenty or thirty people who arrived at the last minute and suddenly you were hoping for vouchers which would necessitate you returning at four o’clock with your full party and keep your fingers crossed that you scored tickets that were being returned by subscribers. Aaarrrggghhhh!
Finally, they came up with the policy that is in place now: you get in line, each person in line gets two tickets, while they’re available. No place holders – meaning, it’s not possible for one person to show up at the line at, say, 7 a.m., and then have a partner take his/her place at a later time. You want a ticket, you have to commit to be in line as long as it takes. You can’t leave the line except to use the rest room or go to the concession stand. And if you think no one will notice, think again! Those of us who’ve gone through this process over the years pay very close attention to who is in front of us and who is behind us. We definitely notice!
Getting to the park at 10 a.m. and scoring tickets for that night’s performance is now a rare occurrence. We were lucky today: we got to the park at 7 a.m. and got pretty good seats! The people at the head of the line got there around midnight. A couple of years ago, sweet husband and I showed up at 2 a.m., camped out on Central Park West and West 88th Street, were escorted into the park when it opened at 5 a.m., called out the “rhymes with witch” who tried to cut in front of us under the guise that she didn’t know she had to stay in line, got vouchers for The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino because we were so far back in the line, and were lucky enough to get tickets. I hated the production, sweet husband loved it…there’s really no accounting for taste!
In 1989, after waiting all day for tickets, we went to the performance of Twelfth Night. My two-year-old daughter was restless, so we stood near the stairwell at the far east end of the Delacorte Theatre. Turned out Gregory Hines liked standing there between scenes, too, so we hung out for a while. He was a dad, I was a mom…we had a thing or two in common!
I’ve seen a lot of plays in the park. Some I’ve liked, many I didn’t. And I still make the effort, every year. Shakespeare In The Park is not just about the play or who stars in it. It’s about the experience. The people who wait in line around you. Going into the park while it’s dark and watching the sun rise over it. The college girls behind us who wouldn’t shut up all night and thought that speaking in Italian made them inaudible. The people just ahead of us who brought their tent. The ones who show up ungodly early so they can score tickets and then sell them. The ones who have breakfast delivered. The ones who bring their dogs…who then lick your breakfast dishes clean!
I got to spend the morning in the park with my sweet daughter. I walked around and got a few pictures…well, maybe more than a few…okay, about a hundred of them! And, besides, it’s the best pre-show in town!