Worth the Wait: Playbill.com Visits the Queue for Mother Courage Tickets

Special Features   Worth the Wait: Playbill.com Visits the Queue for Mother Courage Tickets The hot ticket of the moment in Manhattan is the new Public Theater production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, boasting a Who's Who of contemporary theatre.
Line of eager fans outside the Public Theater.
Line of eager fans outside the Public Theater. Photo by Alex Corpora

Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline are among its players, Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner (Angels in America) penned the world premiere translation of Brecht's 1941 play, Tony Award nominee Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Caroline, or Change) wrote the new music, and George C. Wolfe (Angels in America, Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk) directs.

To avoid chaos when seeking the famously free tickets for the summer Shakespeare in the Park productions at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, The Public puts people in their place — in line. The two primary locations for first-come, first-served tickets are the Delacorte itself, or downtown at The Public Theater box office on 425 Lafayette St. Hours for both locations on the day of performance are 1-3 PM. (There are also tickets available on specific dates in other boroughs. Click here.)

In the hours leading up to the Aug. 8 first preview of Mother Courage, Playbill.com visited the line at the flagship Public Theater to mingle with the hopeful ticket seekers.

By 10 AM Aug. 8 — 10 hours before showtime — the line snaked from the front steps of the Public Theater down the long block to East 4th Street. The first people in line started gathering 12 hours earlier, 10:30 PM Aug. 7.

Heading it was Ann Poyner, a teacher at Summit High School in New Jersey. She brought 10 of her drama students with her, along with an enormous bag of popcorn, and many other snacks, to last them through the night. The students, armed with blankets, pillows, magazines and iPods, were excited to be there and had been planning this day for a long time. A line this long with this many people can't be successful without enforcing a few rules. Rose Reese, a Public Theater security guard, explained you're allowed to take half-hour breaks to eat or take a walk and stretch out. You must inform the people on either side of you and make sure to be back on time.

Meryl Streep fan Jenny Karr said her spot was further back in line from where she was standing and chatting with a friend, and every half hour she checked to make sure her neighbors knew she wanted her place.

Public Theater press rep Sam Neuman's best advice was to make friends with your neighbors.

You may also leave at any time to use a restroom as long as your neighbors know. The Public Theater's restrooms are open to people in the queue.

Another rule of the road: You are not allowed to hold spots for anyone (no "cuts" in line for friends), but you can replace someone's spot.

How does Reese enforce all of these rules? "I remember faces very easily and I walk up and down the block with a counter to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be," Reese said.

Two tickets are permitted per person, although some creative parents have brought babies to the line in the hope of snagging four tickets. Neuman said if you bring your child as another person to receive tickets, the general rule is that the child should be old enough to either sit in the seat, ask for the ticket or hold the ticket.

If, following a long wait in line, the performance gets cancelled because of rain, tickets cannot be exchanged. A new line begins the next day of performance.

Despite humidity, aching feet and potential boredom, the atmosphere at the Public Theater box office Aug. 8 was positive, despite the rules. Fans in line began striking up conversations, finding common ground, playing games and sharing stories.

One woman said that waiting in line "is half of the experience."

The Central Park line is longer, cooler and more relaxed — you can sit in the shade of trees, or lay on the grass. Some people even have food delivered to the line, from local restaurants.

Central Park opens at 6 AM, so fans wait outside the park until that time. No representative from the Public monitors the Central Park line that early, but Neuman said the group is always very orderly and populated with veterans of the experience.

There is no lack of colorful characters on line. The star on Lafayette Aug. 8 was Marko Peruzzi. He produced three chairs for fellow line-waiters to sit in, decorated planters with toy windmills and helped direct the line's shape and enforce regulations. Peruzzi said he saw the recent Delacorte Macbeth seven times and couldn't wait to see Mother Courage. "Meryl Streep is hot," he said.

Waiting in line doesn't necessarily mean there will be a payoff for the patient. Around 10:30 AM, hours before the 1 PM distribution, Reese and the other staff members inform people of their chances of getting tickets based where they are in line. If you're in the back of a long line, your chances diminish, but some people opt to stay. Others go to Central Park hoping to get a good spot in the daily stand-by line (formed the moment the last ticket is distributed in the afternoon at the Delacorte).

Mother Courage and Her Children continues to Sept. 3.

For more information, visit www.publictheater.org.

Fans camped outside the Public Theater.
Fans camped outside the Public Theater. Photo by Alex Corpora