"All the World's a Stage": One Woman's Survival Guide to Waiting in Line for Shakespeare in the Park

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22 Jun 2013

Heidi Schreck and Emily Bergl in <i>Comedy of Errors</i>.
Heidi Schreck and Emily Bergl in Comedy of Errors.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Forget the dog days of summer. Every year since moving to New York, there has been at least one day each summer when I have gotten up before 4 AM — by choice.

I was determined to get tickets to the free productions of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater. Every year, tickets have been given out in the afternoon, on a first-come, first-served basis to those who waited in line. Some years, when the cast of the play featured big-name stars, people would sleep on the sidewalk outside the park to ensure they were in the front of the line. I never took it to that extreme; when I lived within walking distance of the Delacorte, on Second Avenue, I would set my alarm for 3:30 AM and walked to the park, ready to sit in line for nine hours in hopes of being handed two tickets to that night's performance.

My friends called me crazy, but I saw nothing unusual about sitting in Central Park for one-third of a day in order to get free tickets to a play. And, I'm not alone; people have been lining up for Shakespeare in the Park since 1962. Over the years the Delacorte Theater has been home to the talents of James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway and Al Pacino.

In this writer's opinion, the show has always been worth the wait. I've enjoyed the 2008 concert of Hair, the 2009 performance of Twelfth Night and the 2010 performance of The Merchant of Venice in Central Park — even if I did yawn a bit during the performances.

Waiting in the park all day can feel a bit like entering battle, and no soldier goes to the front unprepared. To help those who want to see The Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost this summer, I've put together a list of tips to ensure fellow theatregoers stay comfortable while waiting for tickets.

Click through for advice from a veteran about surviving the wait.

Donna Murphy in Into the Woods.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Plan Ahead
Weekends tend to be busier at the Delacorte than weekdays. If you can wait in line on a weekday, go for it. Or if there is a chance of rain, the line will be shorter, giving you a better chance of getting tickets. (Be forewarned, however, sometimes shows are canceled due to heavy rain.)

Make Yourself Comfortable
Depending on what time you get to Central Park, you will be sitting in line for anywhere between two to eight hours, on grass or pavement. You definitely want to be comfortable. A blanket or pillow are both great, as are folding chairs and yoga mats. If you plan on getting there extremely early, an inflatable mattress and sleeping bag are also an options. (I have seen — and been jealous — of people with those!)

Lily Rabe and David Furr in As You Like It.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Entertain Yourself
Bring a book or two, a deck of cards, board games, a crossword puzzle, an iPhone or even your iPad to stream a movie. Even if you manage to nap for a few hours while you are in line, people and dog-watching will probably get boring as the day goes on. Depending on how long you are waiting, you could even read the a copy of the play you're seeing that night.

Bring Food
You are going to be in line for a long time, and you are going to get hungry. Bring some bottles of water, snacks, or even an entire lunch, and definitely bring some coffee or tea with you. If you can't pack your snacks, you can order food from Andy's Deli, which will deliver to people waiting in line. Their phone number is (212) 799-3355, and they open at 6 AM. The Public also sells food at Public Fare. The seasonally operated outdoor cafe at the Delacorte Theater provides sandwiches, hot dogs, snacks, desserts, coffee, wine and beer to hungry theatregoers and accepts cash and credit cards.

Andre Holland and Annie Parisse in All's Well That Ends Well.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Bring a Friend
The wait is always better if you have someone with you. You can help keep each other awake or take turns napping in shifts. Make sure you get in line together; people are not permitted to join groups after the lines are formed.

Make New Friends
Some people view waiting for tickets as a competitive sport. Respect the rules. Don't cut anyone in line and if someone asks you to watch his or her things for a moment, help the person out. You might need a favor later in the day. And, it never hurts to be friendly; I've actually made some good friends while sitting in line. You can learn a lot about someone in eight hours.

Lily Rabe and Al Pacino in Merchant of Venice.
Photo by Joan Marcus
Know the Basics
Tickets are distributed at noon. Each person can get two tickets.

Before the park opens, the line for tickets starts at 81st and Central Park West. After the Park opens at 6 AM, the line moves to the Delacorte Theater. Someone from the Public Theater will come out and lead you there, but if you are waiting outside the park, you should probably set an alarm for 5:45 AM.

There are public restrooms by the theatre, in the park.

If you have any questions while you're in line, employees of the Public Theater will be there. They will talk with you while you wait and ensure that people respect the rules and don't cut in front of each other.

Stay Local
If you don't like camping, on specific dates a limited number of vouchers for that night’s performance will be distributed at locations throughout New York's five boroughs.​ Ticket vouchers will be distributed between noon and 2 PM, while supplies last. Each person in line is allowed two vouchers, and each voucher is good for one ticket. Vouchers must be exchanged for tickets at the Delacorte Theater Box Office in Central Park between 4:30 PM and 7:30 PM.

Thursday, July 25 – Staten Island
Snug Harbor Cultural Center
1000 Richmond Terrace

Friday, July 26 – Bronx
The Point
940 Garrison Avenue

Saturday, July 27 – Brooklyn
Brooklyn Public Library – Central Library
10 Grand Army Plaza

Tuesday, July 30 - Manhattan
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street

Wednesday, July 31 – Queens
Queens Public Library – Central Library
89-11 Merrick Boulevard

Go Digital

If you can't leave your apartment or office, you can always enter the online lottery. Create an account at shakespeareinthepark.org and enter the virtual lottery. If you win tickets to that night's performance, you'll receive an e-mail at noon that day.

And for those who wait in the park...

Enjoy the Wait
Easier said than done, I know.