“A Midsummer Night’s Dream…”

July 5, 2010

I went to Central Park last night with my friend, Alan, to see “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino, live in the open theatre that is the Delacorte, with Belvedere Castle lit behind the stage, the trees towering over wooden walls, helicopters flying overhead, the mosquitoes from Turtle Pond seeking their own “pound of flesh”  from the audience as we sat enraptured by the controversial Shakespeare play.

Ah!   The beauty and the night and the magic…  And, Al Pacino.  What more could you ask?

“Shakespeare in the Park” is one of New York City’s most beloved summer traditions.  Tickets are free, but one must wait on a line that wraps around Turtle Pond.  If you are there early enough, you will be rewarded — at 1PM, when the box office opens – with a coveted pair of tickets to that night’s performance.

There is always a line.  And, when there is a famous actor or a particularly acclaimed production, the line may start early in the morning.   I don’t mean 8AM.  I mean midnight, the night before.

When my son, Josh, was 14, he was enamored of all things “Star Trek”, and Patrick Stewart was leading the cast of “The Tempest” that year.    The result?   A “perfect storm” of intention:  a son who loves Captain Jean-Luc Picard and a mother who loves all things Shakespeare.

Josh sent me to the park early on the morning before the last night of the run.  I went at 9AM and trekked to the back of what seemed to be the never-ending line as it curled around Turtle Pond.  It was a hot, sunny day.  I brought a cushion and a book and sat down in my place to read for four hours until the box office opened.   With my bottle of water and some fruit, I was fine.

As it approached 1PM, everyone on the line gathered themselves,  turned to the front of the line, and counted the seconds to the appointed hour.

I looked across the stagnant, murky pond to the front of the line and saw that it was moving.  Not five minutes – and 50 feet later, the line stopped moving as a wave of disappointment floated back to where I was standing.  “That’s it.  They’re done.”

I was stunned.  How could all these people – myself included – be so naive as to think that there were enough tickets to warrant such a long wait, such a long line?  Shouldn’t someone from the theatre have counted us and, long before, told those of us at the end to abandon all hope?

Though the crowd dispersed, I knew I was in for even greater disappointment in the eyes of my child if I did not come back with the tickets.  I marched  to where the front of the line had been mere moments before and spoke to a tall, thin, young man with black, round, studious glasses, wearing a black “Staff” tee shirt.  “Excuse me, please.  I wonder if you could tell me how early I would have to be here to ensure that I get tickets to tomorrow’s performance?”  The next night was the last night of the play’s run and I wanted to be CERTAIN.

“Let’s put it like this,” he said, “there were people here at 5AM who didn’t get tickets.”   Wow.

I walked to the pay phone on the theatre’s outside wall.  I called Josh.  When he heard my voice, his only words were, “Did you get the tickets?”

I told him I didn’t.  The silence on the phone was painful to my sensitive mother’s ear.  “I have an idea, though,” I said. “I think we should stay overnight in Central Park tonight and then we’ll be sure to get tickets.”

My son, a cautious boy ever since he was small, protested.  “Mom, we can’t sleep in Central Park!  We’ll get mugged!”  I assured him that we would not be the only ones sleeping there  in hopes of getting tickets for the last night of this desirable production.  “Besides, Josh, I’m your mother.  Do you think that I would let anything happen to you?”  He didn’t sound reassured.

I was surprised that a 14 year-old-boy, even one as careful as Josh, would hesitate for  long at the thought of such a wild, new experience.  I was excited, “Josh, let’s think of it as an adventure!  How many people can ever say that they slept overnight in Central Park?”    Very few, except for the bums and the criminals and the crazies…

I finally won him over.  “I’ll pack everything up and we’ll go to the park at midnight.”

That night, loaded down with pillows, a blanket, a waterproof plastic, some sheets, food, water, and umbrellas for the sun the next morning, Josh and I set off for the dark shadows of the park.  As we entered at 79th Street on the east side of the park, Josh voiced his nervousness.  “Mom, I’m not so sure about this.”

I must admit that I was not without some trepidation of my own.  As beautiful as Central Park is and always has been, the park closes at sunset every night, and with good reason.  It’s better now, but, at that time, one did not risk one’s life walking through Central Park in the middle of the night.

We walked on the lonely, silent path.  There were lights, but no people.  To reassure Josh, and maybe even myself, I said, “Don’t worry, Honey, I have these two big water bottles here in this bag.  If anyone comes, I’ll knock them out with this.”

“Good,” he said, “because I’m going to be running out of here!”

As we came over the rise that gave way to Turtle Pond beneath us – right about where I had been on line, in fact –we saw lights in the distance, closer to the theatre. We followed the path around and came closer to the Delacorte. It was soon clear that we would not be spending the night in the park alone.

We were 52nd in line.  At midnight.

I lay the plastic down and then the blanket over it.  We looked around to see tents and small barbeques.  I saw someone playing a guitar close to the theatre, but it was drowned out by another’s “boom-box” closer to us.  Even as I finished setting up our “camp-site”, there were already another 5 or 6 groups after us.   Whew!

It took a long time for us to settle down.  There was so much noise and activity!  Smells of food wafted over to us, along with the loud whooping merriment of drinking and laughter.  And, even more “wafting” – the smell of marijuana was thick in the air.

We were next to a group of guys drinking beer.  Another guy, clearly one of their group, stomped over to their blanket, shirtless and speaking loudly of the “ignorant idiots” who had no appreciation of “The Tempest” or Shakespeare or anything culturally significant.  This “riff-raff” only here, he said, “as if this were some ‘Trekkie Convention’ or something.”   With that, he hooked his thumbs into his jeans and pulled them down over his slim hips and stood there, naked and fuming.  I looked at Josh.  He shrugged his shoulders.  He might have been scared of Central Park, and maybe a bit stunned by the naked man not 10 feet from him, but he stood firm in his conviction that the world was enhanced by all things “Star Trek.”

We did finally go to sleep, only to awaken at the crack of dawn — as movement and the sun fought with our sleep for attention.

We packed everything up and prepared to wait for the last leg of our adventure.  We stood and waited, and waited and stood.  As long as we could sleep, I didn’t mind.  Standing for 6 hours was a whole  other story.  While I had my book the day before, that wasn’t Josh’s thing, so we stood together and talked or he leaned on me, or one or the other of us would run to the food stand and buy more water.

1PM.  The formerly bedraggled and disorganized crowd shifted suddenly into a single line.  Fights broke out about who had been there first as people vied for their place on the line.

The line moved quickly and we were at the front, claiming our tickets, two for each of us.  It hadn’t occurred to me before that – I thought that Josh and I would go together. Now we had four tickets – What a treasure!

We asked Fred, Josh’s dad, to join us – but what to do with that precious fourth ticket?  As we left the park that morning, we saw the unsuccessful hoard of people leaving in disappointment – looking much as I had looked the day before.   Nothing much could mar our joy, but it was a kind of guilty pleasure to have an extra ticket and no one to give it to.

We called a few friends before we hit our beds for a nap, but no one could join us.

That night, we brought the extra ticket to the theatre with us.  I was surprised to see another long line around Turtle Pond – hopeful stand-bys for this last performance by Patrick Stewart in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Central Park.

We scanned the line.  How could we just choose someone to give the ticket to?  That wouldn’t be fair, would it?  We decided to take it to the box office — wasn’t that the right thing to do?  Josh  asked the woman behind the desk, “One of those people who is waiting will get this one, right?”  She assured us that someone would.

We went into the theatre and found our seats.  After all our waiting, we wound up in the very top row.  While the theatre is not huge, Josh and I both thought that sleeping overnight in the park was certainly worth seats up closer to the stage. We shrugged, realizing that we were lucky to have the ones we had and it was simply the luck of the draw.

I was waiting for a single to climb the steps and claim the empty seat next to me.  No one came.  As the play started, Josh and I looked at each other in amazement – somehow, that ticket had not been given out!  We remembered that long, stand-by line curling around the pond. We were sorry, after all, that we didn’t just walk up to someone and say, “Here’s a ticket.”  Oh, well.

Josh loved the play – or perhaps he just loved the idea of seeing Patrick Stewart in person.  It doesn’t matter.  It was an adventure with a glorious ending – a summer’s tale to tell someday.

These days, it’s a bit more organized.  The system is still the same, only now you can stand “online” on the Internet with the Public Theatre’s virtual ticketing.  Sign in anytime after midnight and check back after 1PM the next day to see if you are one of the winners.  If that doesn’t work, there’s always Craig’s List – which is what I did yesterday.  One person advertised 2 tickets for $125.  I called him and claimed them.

I met the ticket seller by the park at 79th and Fifth Avenue.   A bedraggled guy in a navy cap, I wondered suddenly if the tickets were real.  Not as cautious as Josh, but careful, nonetheless, I wanted to see the tickets before I took out my money.  I asked how he got them – he told me he spent the night in the park.

The veil of separation fell away.  “I’ve done that,” I whispered in comraderie — with a nod to a  fellow adventurer in the glorious journey that is being a New Yorker…

Deliciously yours in the Magic of it All, Linda

“What pleasure, sir, find we in life, to lock it From action and adventure?” (Cymbeline: ACT IV, SCENE IV)  William Shakespeare

For information about Shakespeare in the Park at The Public Theatre, please go to http://www.publictheater.org.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

2 Responses to ““A Midsummer Night’s Dream…””

  1. Doug Longo said

    Dear Linda
    I have to complement you on your love of Shakespeare
    and Josh’s Love of seeing Patrick Stewart. I’m not sure that there is anything that I would want to see
    so badly that I would spend a night in Central Park.But I’m sure your desire to not disappoint your son added to your motivation.Glad that Craig’s List made you second attempt a little easier.

    • spiritualchocolate said

      Dear Doug,

      Oh, the adventure was all mine! I’ve spent years trying to imbue Josh with an adventuresome spirit — to no avail! Maybe it’s good that he’s more conservative — one of us has to be, I suppose! Thank you for reading! xoxo Linda

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