Waiting in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets is a unique kind of New York City marathon. People come equipped with tents and air mattresses, board games, food, folding chairs, sleeping bags. They take it seriously.
People take it especially seriously when the show in question—this year’s Merchant of Venice, for example—features a Hollywood star. Al Pacino has turned Central Park West into what looks like an organized, first-world refugee camp.
We waited for seven hours and could only get single tickets in different rows; others ahead of us waited twice as long. By the time it was through, people had made friends. The girls sitting in front of us had been taught how to knit by the girls in front of them. We knew all about the woman sitting behind us, and her baby, who we got to meet later in the day when her husband stopped by with lunch. We got recommendations for breakfast from people waiting just down the line from us. (A deli and a pizza joint both deliver to the line.) People sleep and read and listen to the birds, and frown up at the looming clouds, and discuss accordingly.
Granted, enemies can be made too, especially considering how closely the Public Theater’s good-humored staff polices the line, and how closely the line polices itself. Cutters and illegal joiners are shunned, and then asked to leave. A guy who wondered aloud why a group of people further back in the line didn’t simply get there earlier was greeted with a resounding chorus of fuck yous.
By the time the show starts at 8 pm, everyone in line has already seen a show—and played a part in one. Waiting in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets requires, at the very minimum, twice as many hours as seeing the show itself. Time is the real price of the ticket, which can be infinitely more precious than what we all cough up at TKTS, or plunk down at the box office. Just ask the lady with the baby about that.
After seeing Pacino perform—a performance so dominating that we wondered whether it was actually Shylock playing Pacino up there and not the other way around—we agreed that the wait was worth it, and was worth doing again, in fact. To sacrifice a day or two of your life for the theater? In other places, maybe it wouldn’t happen. In New York City, it is a yearly ritual—and high drama unto itself.
Photo: The Craptacular