Although I’ve lived my entire life in New York City, I’d never attended one of those free Shakespeare productions within Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. I’ve constantly been hearing about it and knew that this production of King Lear would not only be super popular being that John Lithgow would be playing the lead, but also because this is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, and I knew I had to find a way to snag a ticket.
I’d been reading loads of articles about these plays over the past few months, but they weren’t necessarily about the performances, more so about the individuals who’ve waited in line just to receive the opportunity to receive a ticket! The tickets are distributed each day at noon, but I read about people who arrived at 11pm the night before. Talk about dedication. They bring chairs, reading material, and food to eat, and just get really comfy for the next 12-13 hours. Sounds like a lot, right? But as the particularly loud lady in the line for the bathroom explained to another, “We make it fun! A group of us come together and have a great time.” I’m paraphrasing, as you might know, but you catch my drift.
Thankfully I only had to wait a fraction of that time in order to procure tickets and waited just 4 hours to get mine. Apparently there are at least 6 different ways to get tickets, so I decided to choose the borough distribution method. For each production, for one day only, vouchers are distributed in each of the 5 boroughs that need to be exchanged for actual tickets at the box office in Central Park. The thing that sucks is that they claim not to know how many vouchers are in each envelope they receive because they vary day-to-day, so they won’t know until noon when the envelope is finally opened. Also, each voucher must be redeemed between 4pm and 7pm the same day or they will be given to someone in the stand-by line. It’s definitely an all day event.
Each person is given up to two vouchers each, so I tried on Friday to get some in Brooklyn, but arrived too late and by the time I made it to the front all of them were gone. Lesson learned. Nevertheless, I knew that vouchers would once again be given out at the Queens Museum the next day, and at 8am the next morning we made our way out there.
I was shocked to see how long the line had already gotten by the time we arrived! There had to have been at least 50-60 people ahead of us already and I was afraid that a repeat of yesterday’s events would transpire. This time, however, we were prepared and we broke out the beach chairs and got comfortable.
Despite missing breakfast that morn, and therefore becoming a “hangry” person and being rained on just a little, the wait wasn’t too bad. When we finally started moving, and I secured one of those pink vouchers in my hand, I felt victorious like Charlie Bucket receiving his Golden Ticket into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Yup, I felt like a boss.
What I’ve come to realize is that “free” doesn’t always mean free. In reality, especially with free events in NYC, I’m paying in other ways, whether it be paying with time used to wait in line, paying with sleep (or lack there of), or even with patience. I now know that free doesn’t always mean so.
Nevertheless, there were definitely some standout performances that made the wait all worth it, particularly those by John Lithgow who played King Lear, Chukwudi Iwuji who played Edgar, and Clarke Peters who played Edgar’s father, Gloucester. I could feel as Lear descends into insanity, as Edgar is pained when he is disowned by his father, and the agony Gloucester felt as his eyes were gouged out. It was a a really enjoyable experience and brilliantly acted and I thank the heavens that it did not rain, I can’t imagine it’d be very fun if it had.
I have this strong feeling that that amphitheater was full of really sleepy people, as well. Not because the play was boring, but because almost everyone there had to wait in long lines before the sun rose in order to get a chance to view it. It was also over 3 hours long, so that probably didn’t help. However, it’s a small price to pay in order to see something that I know many people worked hard to make happen. It’s wonderful that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have the same chance as anyone else to be a part of this experience.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! Maybe I’ll even make it a new New York City tradition.