Benjamin Singer, my longtime friend and a fellow past honoree on Oy!Chicago and YLD's Chicago Jewish 36 Under 36 list, really, really, really likes the Broadway musical Hamilton. He obsessively memorized the musical's soundtrack, he's organized Hamilton karaoke nights in New York, where he now lives, and dressed up as Hamilton characters for Purim.
But, due to the show's immense popularity, he hadn't actually seen the musical. He has entered the show's ticket lottery more than 100 times to no avail. Upon hearing that show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda would be leaving the cast July 9, Benjamin took measures into his own hands.
That's why a few weeks ago, Benjamin called me from the cancellation line to get last-minute Hamilton tickets. The line where he'd been for 72 hours straight. At the time of our call, he was hoping he'd get into that night's show. I asked him about his experience when we spoke on Friday, June 17, 2016. (For the complete, unabridged interview, visit my blog here.)
Tell me about your week.
Well, I have been stopping by the Hamilton cancellation line over the last few months to see if I could get tickets but I was always too far back. I thought, if I show up at my usual time, at around 5 p.m., I could probably be the third or fourth person in line for the next day, which means I'll get in.
Why haven't you seen the show yet?
I've not seen the show yet because it's sold out through March of next year, and tickets on the resale market are several hundred dollars to $2,000 each. I've entered the lottery every day since it has gone online and I've been in town and I've never won, plus many times in person.
What kind of a line is this?
This is a cancellation line. They generally have between four and 10 cancellations per performance. These are because VIPs or people who won the lottery online don't show up.
If you get in, how much will you have to pay?
Standing room tickets are $40; regular tickets are around $200; VIP tickets are about $500.
And you're prepared to pay that amount?
Yeah, at this point, it's the only way I will be able to see the original cast. The biggest reason for this is so that I can move on with my life! There are so many great shows I could be seeing, so many friends I could be spending time with, so many things to explore while I live in New York. I just need to see the show so I can move on and do those other things.
Who are some of the other people in this line?
The first guy in line is named Adonis. Adonis is a professional line sitter - he is getting paid $12 an hour to wait in line. We call him our "camp counselor" because he keeps up morale, he keeps everyone orderly, he makes sure we're in the right place at the right time to keep the order of the line.
How have you been taking care of eating, sleeping, and going to the restroom while in line?
We have basically formed a mini society in line. We take care of each other. We bring each other food, keep each other's spots in line while we buy food or while we charge our laptops and phones in the Marriott next door.
Where do you sleep?
My friend Nina had blankets I could use but I didn't really have anything to sleep on. A few of us went foraging for cardboard boxes, and we found some in Times Square.
Have you been able to get work done?
Yes. I normally work remotely, so it's not that far-fetched of an idea for me to do this as long as I can talk on the phone and use the internet. I actually feel like I've been a pretty good manager while I've been here. When necessary I've gone over to sit in the Marriott's lobby for a meeting or two so I could have reliable wi-fi.
Have you gone home at all?
During the shows, we're not allowed to be in front of the theater because there are hundreds of people waiting for the cast to come out. So that's a time when I was able to go home for a super fast shower and to gather more supplies.
How many people are behind you in line?
Right now, about 20-25. We're telling people it's a three-night wait.
Is there anything you've learned about yourself, about society, about culture from being in this line?
I think the power of the crowd to self-regulate and come up with rules that benefit the whole is one thing that this line demonstrates very well. I've always said this, but the people you meet in the Hamilton cancellation line are the best people. I've been in two or three Hamilton cancellation lines but I've never slept overnight. I always have fantastic conversations with people - about theater, about government, about life. They're just very thoughtful, smart, interesting, fun people.
"About 25 minutes before the show on Friday, after 73.5 hours of waiting in line, everyone ahead of us had gotten in. Then a theater staff member walked towards us with a big smile on her face, and took the rope aside. I said "One or two????" And she said, "Two!" We were so excited to find that our seats were front row, in the center section, and we were sitting by our friends from line! These were lottery tickets, so the winners must have not checked their emails. We had to pay $199 each, but of course it was worth it to sit front row center for the world's hottest ticket to the most incredibly entertaining and uplifting show, and not have to pay an arm and a leg. I will never forget it. And now I can move on with my life -- go to dance classes, organize softball games, spend time with friends, and oh yeah, see other musicals. :)"