The producers of the Broadway musical Rent have made it a policy to stay in touch with their roots by reserving the first two rows (34 seats) in the center of the orchestra at every performance of the hit musical to be purchased on the same day of performance, at a price of $20, less than a third the full price for an orchestra seat.
All you have to do to get one of these coveted tickets is stand in line.
Standing in line for the low-Rent seats is becoming an institutn, a rite of passage for young theatregoers in New York. One of Playbill On-Line's summer interns, Katie Webber, did the line thing on a recent Saturday, and returned with this diary of her experience:
4 AM -- I awoke in my Upper West Side apartment, along with two friends from Ohio, John and Maggie.
4:50 AM -- We arrived at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street and 7th Avenue (with the help of John's recently broken-into Ford Probe). As we rounded the corner onto 41st street we saw the people lined up against the Nederlander stretching east towards Broadway. The people were huddled together, leaning up against the building or lying down in sleeping bags. The sun wasn't completely up yet, and the Rent line almost resembled a tent city in itself. The majority of the people on line were people our age (18-25) wearing T-shirts and ripped jeans, or khaki shorts and a white button-down shirt for those more inclined to dress up for the theatre. Everyone was wrinkled. We settled down on a step and leaned back for the seven hours until noon, when tickets to the 2 PM matinee would go on sale. 4:55 AM -- A new arrival took an official "count," and we were numbers 22, 23, and 24. We breathed easy.
5:45 AM -- Broke out the Drake's donuts, Tostito chips and salsa for breakfast. Maggie commented that the street smelled like Gummi Worms, although I would have to disagree with her and say that it smelled more like my basement -- dusty if you could get over the dampness. Maybe the salsa was confusing her.
6 AM -- The line for the matinee was full -- the 34 tickets were accounted for. The line for the evening performance began.
6:10 AM -- Got sprayed with dirt when the street cleaner came by.
6:20 AM -- First panhandler came by. I gave him a donut.
7 AM -- The line for the evening performance [which goes on sale at 6 PM] was full.
7:50 AM -- A twentysomething man came by in jeans and a t-shirt and asked the last person on line what number they were. They said they were number 34. He cursed and yelled to his friend walking towards him from 7th avenue. "We didn't make it!" he yelled, gesturing angrily and walking towards her. Karen, a small 20-year-old next to me laughed quietly. "Of course you didn't make it, what did you expect, it's ten of eight!" she said more to herself than to anyone else.
8 AM -- Went to Port Authority to get a New York Times. Before I left I asked the people on either side of me if they wanted anything. One large orange juice (for Karen, to my left) and a newspaper later, I returned.
8:35 AM -- The three people to our right asked us to wake them up in half an hour so they could move the car. We learned that they were from Wittenberg, a college two hours from ours in Ohio, and lived in Boston, Cleveland, and Hawaii.
8:40 AM -- Attempted the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle.
8:42 AM -- Abandoned the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle.
9:10 AM -- Second panhandler came by. I gave him one of my friend's cigarettes. (John still doesn't know this.)
9:30 AM -- The surface we were leaning up against that we thought was a wall turned out to be a door when a janitor for the theatre opened it to take out the trash. The door, which was two steps up from the ground and had a huge picture of Aiko Nakasone from the cast on it, opened over the girl from Wittenberg's head as she lay on the ground trying to sleep. She was very surprised to open her eyes and see a very tall man with a bag of garbage standing over her saying "Move."
9:40 AM -- By this time all three of us had detailed knowledge of the physical description of the building across the street. Maggie had plans to come back and photograph 221 West 41st Street, the tall brick building that we couldn't decide whether or not was condemned. All the lights were out except one on the fifth floor with a light bulb hanging from a wire in the ceiling. She commented on the composition of the shadows in contrast to the light. She also planned to use the address 221 West 41st Street in case anyone ever gave her any trouble and wanted to know where she lived. [This turns out to have been the back wall of the New Amsterdam Theatre, which Disney is renovating at a cost of $34 million. -ed.]
10 AM -- The box office for the Nederlander Theatre opened. The standing room tickets was sold (22 tickets at $20 each). The street got slightly quieter as those 22 people bought their tickets and went about their way with four hours to go before the matinee curtain.
10:20 AM -- Third panhandler came by. I asked him if he did any impressions. Gave him a dollar after he successfully imitated the flautist from Jethro Tull.
10:30 AM -- Justin, Becca, and Dave from Wittenberg broke out a deck of cards and taught the three of us how to play Euchre. We played a couple of hands and then moved on to hearts. I lost. John cheated.
11:30 AM -- The manager of the line came out and made some announcements to the line.
"Okay," he said. "Who here is waiting for the evening performance?" People on the back of the line raised their hands, except for a couple who shouted, "Either one!"
The line manager walked down to them. "You can't wait for either one," he said. "You either wait for one or the other. Which one?"
They looked confused for a second, then chose the evening performance.
The line manager stepped out to the curb and faced the line. "Okay," he yelled. "In the ORDER THAT YOU ARRIVED...I'm going to have to ask you to get up and move down to the other side of the doors." He pointed to where the standing room line had been. 34 people jumped up and walked quickly to the other side of the doors.
"So much for in the order that you arrived," my friend Maggie said.
11:35 AM -- After the evening line was moved, the manager of the line came back to us. "Okay, I need each of you to hold up either one or two fingers to signify how many tickets you are buying." We all sort of looked at each other, wondering why he was doing the count since we had all done it again and again. We had moved from 22, 23, and 24 to 21, 22, and 23. "Hey! I was promoted!" Karen next to me beamed as she went from number 25 to 24.
Noon -- The manager of the line came back out. "Okay, you guys wanna get out of here?" Thirty-four people yelled "YES!"
He continued. "Have your ID out and your cash ready. It is cash only, you can buy up to two tickets. You cannot choose your seats." We all jumped up and started walking towards the box office.
12:05 PM -- With tickets in hand, we walked down to 23rd and 3rd Avenue for a quiet lunch at P.J. Reiley's.
1:45 PM -- We walked into the Nederlander Theatre and sat down in our seats: dead center of the second row. This being the second time I had seen the show I immediately recognized the set, but I also noticed things I hadn't seen the first time -- the doors in the back on the fire escape, and the staircase that lead up to the stage right platform. I looked over next to Maggie and saw that our friends from Wittenberg were sitting right next to us. As the people filed in behind me, I began to worry for the first time that I was underdressed. I soon found confidence in numbers as I looked around and saw all these new people I had met wearing the same things that they had worn in line.
3:25 PM -- Intermission. As my friends went outside to get some air, a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around. "Excuse me," she said. She was probably 50 years old, well-dressed in an Ann Taylor suit and wearing a fortune in Estee Lauder make-up. "Are you all together?"
"Who?" I asked.
"This whole...bunch of you." She motioned to the first two rows. "Do you all know each other? Did you come from a school?"
"Well, we all stood in line together for seven hours," I explained. "We all know each other somewhat now, I suppose." I looked up and Karen was trying to get the attention of the woman who had stood behind her and was pointing to a picture in the program. "That's him!" Karen was yelling to her. "The one I told you to look for!" I turned back to the woman behind me. The woman looked confused. "You waited in line for tickets? I thought it was sold out."
I tried to explain to her how everyone had arrived early in the morning to get front row seats for cheap. Her ears began to perk up when she realized that all of us had only paid $20 for our tickets. I assured her that it wasn't just a one-time deal, that some people do this three, five, ten times, and that every Saturday, without fail, you just need to get there by 6 AM at the latest if you want to see the matinee.
8 PM -- Back in my apartment. Promised my friend that I would wait in line again with her next week, when she came in from Massachusetts.
-- By Katie Webber