Last weekend I did something so out of character that I’m amazed my friends didn’t summon mental health professionals to examine me: I sat outside, in Central Park, from well before dawn through after lunch.
Let me explain.
You see, Shakespeare in the Park gives their tickets free of charge, but you have to either wait outside in line until 1:00pm or put your name on a virtual (online) lottery. But very few tickets are actually given out virtually, so most people have to wait in line.
We’d put our names into the virtual lottery day after day this summer, and shortly after 1:00pm each day we’d get the dreaded, “Unfortunately…” email. This being the final weekend of performances for Into the Woods, we knew that drastic action would be required.
It’s a popular attraction, so to actually get tickets in the park itself you have to arrive early. Earlier than the hundreds and hundreds of other people who had the same idea… And with only a few performances remaining, we knew that the line would be outrageous. So we did what any theatre-loving gay couple would do in such desperate circumstances: we arrived at 4:15am and waited. And waited. And waited.
The park is closed until 6:00am so you actually have to wait outside the park along the street until they come to lead the line into the park itself. Lined up in the wee hours of the morning were about twenty or twenty-five people huddled up in sleeping bags or sitting placidly on blankets.
Right away, we had a slight snag: we weren’t sure who the theatre fanatics were, and who the homeless people were… Which made figuring out where the line actually ended a little complicated.
Eventually we grabbed a spot, got as comfortable as possible, and fired up the laptop to watch the final few episodes of Chuck to pass the time. Before long the ticket ushers arrived, gave their well-rehearsed instructions, and led the sleepy line into the park to each individual’s more permanent waiting spot.
Ours was not far from the bathrooms, which was convenient, and right along a jogging path. This gave us hours of opportunity to play with dogs passing by and try not to get caught staring at joggers.
Eventually 1:00 came, they handed out tickets in the order of line position, and we trudged our way out of the park and into a taxi.
Later… The show.
Into the Woods is an adorable show to begin with, based on a recorded performance that I’ve seen, so I was thrilled when the music started. It turned out to be one of the most breathtaking theatrical experiences of my life.
The story takes a number of classic fairy tales (Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood, among several others) and weaves them together into one interconnected sequence of events. For more, just go Wikipedia it.
I was a bit surprised, pleasantly, with some of the newish twists in this production, such as the young boy narrating instead of the traditional old man. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters got a more modern, Goth update, perhaps representing the evolution of high fashion in the age of Lady Gaga. (Hat tip to Sal for that observation.)
The witch… Oh my God, the witch. She may not have been Bernadette Peters (well, factually speaking, she literally wasn’t) but she was magnificent. And the wolf? Made my toes curl up. (You really have to see it to understand.)
All in all, an imaginative retelling of a great play. But the scenery, and the environment in which the story was told, was what truly took my breath away.
If you ever have the opportunity to go see Shakespeare in the Park you simply must go. It’s a phenomenally beautiful theatrical experience.
And besides, then you’ll have stories of your harrowing nine-hour adventure, and the lengths you’ll go to for good art.