Let me start off with a little context. Every summer, New York City organises ‘Shakespeare in the Park’. Plays take place every day, all through the summer, once a day.
The tickets are free and have to be picked up on the day of the play. Each person can only pick up two tickets. It is part of an initiative to make theater available to everyone. The cast consists of the highest class of actors (Al Pacino and Anne Hathaway have starred in it in the past), and the backdrop is the sumptuous Central Park and a New York summer.
Shakespeare in the Park. Photograph by Saranya Misra.
So what’s the catch you ask?
There is none. Almost.
Try going at one o’clock when the counter opens and the line extends as far as the eye can see and then many times over. The only way to actually get tickets is to stand outside the counter at 7 a.m. and wait for six hours until 1 p.m. when the counter opens. If you reach the park at 8 or 9 a.m., you’re automatically in the danger area: tickets may or may not run out by the time you get to the counter.
Now, here’s my experience. In true Indian style, my friend Sara and I arrived at the park at 8.30 a.m. and we gulped our way into the line. Knowing about the long wait, we had come mostly prepared. I carried with me a blanket to sit on, a pack of UNO, a book. Sara carried also a book, an iPod, and a parasol.
We befriended those sitting before and after us (after all, we were going to be together for six hours). In front of us was a fag-hag duo and behind us an old married couple. Line Nazis watched everyone closely. A Line Nazi ensured that no one skipped the line or joined the line illegally. If someone left the line, they had to rejoin it at the end. There is no “holding a place” for anyone else. The Line Nazis also have numbers for places that deliver food to the line, and provide a send-away for people behind the “no hope whatsoever” zone of the line, information about other Shakespeare plays in the city, and so on.
After a couple of hours of chatting, introductions, and eating (yes, we got food delivered!), Sara decided to sleep for a few hours. I was stationed under the parasol, reading a book. In truth, I was just staring at the trees, watching the rays of the sunlight fall in neat, straight patterns on the ground. It was precisely at this moment that I began to hear soft music coming from a trumpet. I raised my head only to find that a street musician had decided to take requests from the line participants in exchange for a dollar each. He played ‘Summer Lovin’’ and ‘What a Wonderful World’ in jazz standard and ‘The Entertainer’ in ragtime while the cool wind rustled through green leaves.
I realised then that this task, this waiting in line, was actually nothing short of a picnic in Central Park, something that had been on my agenda since I moved to New York. And here it was, finally a reality.
Another couple of hours down the line, the Line Nazis asked us to pack up. We did so promptly and sure enough, five minutes later, we were at the counter where they asked ‘How many?’. We could have had up to four tickets, but would you really want to get a ticket for someone who didn’t wait for five hours in line when you did? We only got two for ourselves.
As for the play itself, it was wonderful. It started off while the day was still light. Shakespeare was funny (obviously) and the setting of the sun and evening shadows had been subtly written into the production (not so obviously). The cast was great and Central Park was simply outstanding! I watched Helena and Bertram proclaim their love for one another under a sky filled with fireflies, over a lake filled with dreams.
For the first time in a long long time, in the craziest, most energetic city in the world, I felt at peace.