Line Leader One writer camps out for her theater seats

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How does one obtain premium tickets to a Broadway show that is sold out for months to come without shelling out a small fortune? The cancellation line, my friends.

I know what you’re thinking. Why, oh why would someone past college age opt to spend an entire day, much less an evening, waiting in line for tickets? Why wouldn’t I just bite the bullet and buy tickets on a ticket reseller site? This isn’t 1991 after all, and this isn’t the U2 world tour. This is Broadway musical theater. All valid points.

However, “Dear Evan Hansen” was nominated for nine Tony Awards and took home six, including best musical and best performances by an actor and an actress in leading roles as well as orchestration and original score sweeps. The cheapest ticket I could find, before fees, was $750 — for one ticket.

A weekend trip to NYC would require a babysitter for my children, basically making the trip not even worth it. Even if I were child-free, the cost of a weekend getaway just for a Broadway show seemed indulgent.

However, the stars had aligned. My mom was visiting from out of town and offered to hold down the fort for two days. With some hotel points, I was able to find a creative solution to get to NYC, wait in line, trading time for money, and get a chance at scoring premium tickets at face value.

Cancellation tickets are defined as tickets set aside for celebrities and special guests or blocks of tickets reserved for companies. Unclaimed/unused tickets are turned back into the box office and sold, at face value, for the same day’s show. Sometimes, people wait in line and tickets never transpire, and when they do, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

Professional line waiters, such as LineDudes, need to wear signage designating them as a paid line waiter, and to ward off scalpers, these line waiters must have their customers available right before show time to resume their saved place in line or risk the newly invoked rule of line waiters purchasing the tickets themselves.

Even for the civilians, there are rules and etiquette when camping out for theater tickets — no chairs, no tents, not a lot of bedding, and you need to be an individual waiting for your own self-use tickets or an official line-waiter. I wasn’t sure how strictly these rules would be enforced by the patrolling police officers whose regular beats are the Theatre District’s box-office storefronts, but I was soon going to find out.

I drove up the night before the show, and by 10:10 p.m., the reality that I had, at worst, 22 hours of waiting in hopes of obtaining tickets (that may or may not become available) started to set in.

I vacillated between elation, concern and a desperate need for a lavatory. I wasn’t completely certain I was waiting in the correct place, and the 24 ounces of hot tea I’d consumed on my drive from Baltimore had caught up with me. I had departed later than planned, so I assumed I would arrive and jump in line with a half-dozen other people already waiting, claim my spot, and then the camaraderie of the other hopefuls would grant me a few minutes to run the nearest hotel restroom. The thought that I could or would be first in line had never crossed my mind. But there I was.

Around 11 p.m., company arrived — a friendly, giant of a man with glorious Rastafarian dreds secured in a loose ponytail. He was wearing a button-down shirt with the cuffs turned up a little and had an easy smile. I recognized him instantly. It was Tomas, a line waiter I had met twice before in the “Hamilton” line. We chitchatted, and I told him I was literally going to die if I didn’t make my way toward a restroom and was ever so grateful he had arrived. He was surprised that I was there, as he had hoped to be the first in line, but somebody’s got to be first, and I was glad it was me.

I hobbled off to the restroom and to grab a coffee. It was cold. I was glad for the company, and not for the first time that night, I gave a silent, heartfelt thanks that I was sleeping on the street by choice and had a warm home to return to.

The Music Box Theatre was nestled next to the blockwide Marriott Marquis, adjacent to a delivery dock. All throughout the evening, delivery trucks came and went. Drivers argued, blocking the driveway from time to time. In front of the theater, a small line grew.

You meet the most riveting, captivating people while waiting in the cancellation line. It’s really a slice of New York: a free-spirited waif of a girl with an infectious laugh who could easily have passed for a high schooler but had just been awarded a prestigious medical position and had only a few days left in New York City; a gay hipster who was looking for a roommate in Brooklyn and took the train on a whim to see if he could score tickets for himself and a visiting friend; an adorable couple wanting a show to be their first official celebration of couplehood. Early the next morning, a woman showed up with her two teenaged girls who were visiting from Toronto as she completed her medical degree in a competitive residency program. We all became line friends: People held spots for one another and treated new friends to a cup of coffee, a shared sandwich, a book or a pair of gloves.

Together, we shared the night. Shortly after 10, various people entered the box office, and we heard the security guard: “No, there are no tickets for today, but you’re welcome to wait in line with the others who’ve been waiting.” “Yeah, they’re waiting for tickets, too.” “The back of the line is that way. That’s the front of the line. “No, don’t cut the line — we know who was first, and you can’t just jump in.” “Yes, a new block of tickets is now available for the show, beginning nine months from now.”

For us, no news. I had stretched repeatedly, ran to the local coffee shop multiple times for hot drinks, snacks and the restroom, knitted one mitten and half of another, knitted part of a scarf, read several more chapters from a novel and absentmindedly played several rounds of Sudoku on my phone.

The hours ticked by. Eventually, it was midafternoon, and my husband called to tell me he was boarding a train from Baltimore and was set to arrive around 7. He told me that all day he had been telling his clients that I slept outside on the streets of New York City, waiting for “Deary Hensy” tickets, a play that no one had heard of, and they all thought I was nuts. Oh jeez. Face palms and eye rolling ensued in my new line family as they squealed with hilarity.

But I was nervous. No tickets have been released. The man working in the box office could have been in the final round of the World Series of Poker, his face gave nothing away. I was uncertain he even knew how to smile. Every time the box-office door opened, we caught a collective breath, like the heave of an exaggerated ocean wave. Was it possible that no tickets will become available?

Tomas urged me not to worry, but I knew he was starting to get concerned. His clients were flying in with hopes of seeing the musical. At 7:25 p.m., the doors swung open abruptly. A security guard motioned with two fingers for me to come in and Mr. Poker Face cracked a smile. “I have two.” I started giggling like a 10-year-old who’s just been told she can get her ears pierced. I emerged from the box-office lobby Phoenix-like, and my new friends inquired about the seats and price, genuinely happy for me. I had waited the longest and was rewarded this time. I hugged Tomas, then ran to my hotel to check in and get ready.

Less than an hour later, my husband and I walked into the Music Box Theatre. Our tickets were ideal, seventh row, center orchestra. I had spent less than $400 for both tickets combined — birthday money well spent.

And the show, well, the show was everything I had been waiting for.

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