My boyfriend and I decided on Saturday morning to go see Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Booth Theatre, as the months-long run of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Edward Albee's monumental play was coming to a close on Sunday. I know what you're thinking: theater is for old people, gays, and people with too much money to spend on cultural events! Oh no, I say: only one of those things are correct (the middle one, right?); my boyfriend pointed out in the middle of last week that the show was offering $35 tickets to those with student IDs, which delighted me because I really did not want to spent over a hundred dollars for tickets to a play, especially when there wouldn't be any singing and dancing.
So we woke up early on Saturday morning and moseyed on up to 45th Street. (Have you ever been in Times Square before noon? It is quite eerie and quiet in a very Vanilla Sky kind of way.) The box office was opening at ten, and we got there just in time to see a line of youths snaking out of the box office doors. We were shocked that people wanted to see this old play, but it was closing the next day, and it would be one of the last chances to see Chicago theater veterans Tracy Letts (who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County) and Amy Morton (you may remember her as the mom from Rookie of the Year) together in this famous play. So we stood there in line, patiently waiting in the cold for tickets to the theater, trying to pump ourselves up as if we were seeing, like, a taping of SNL or something.
I should note here that neither of us are students. But the one thing I was able to take away from a very brief and regretful two quarters of graduate school is a student ID that has no expiration date. People: check your shoeboxes right now. Still hanging on to your old student ID for nostalgia's sake? Well, pull it out of that box stuffed with birthday cards and ticket stubs, because you have got a one-way ticket to cheap (well, cheaper) culture in New York City. I have used this thing at plays, at museums, even at movie theaters. I have no shame, because I also don't have a lot of money.
So we stood there. And stood there. And that line, my friends, was not moving very quickly. When we finally moved into the actual, tiny box office, we noticed there were two ticket windows. At one was a long line of people, patiently handing money and cards to an elegant older woman behind a metal cage. At the other window was no line, but behind the ticket window's gate was an older gentlemen going about his business, by which I mean doing not much business at all. Occasionally he would shout out, "The evening performance is sold out! Are you all here for the matinee?" And all of us would answer yes, glumly and quietly, because we had all been standing in that line without moving for ten minutes, and we had already known for ten minutes that the evening performance was sold out.
"What is going on?" I snapped to my boyfriend, because I hate lines and I hate waiting and nothing makes me lose my patience quicker than customer service ineptitude on both sides of the counter. The man at the front of our line seemed like he had been there for ages, slowly growing older to the point where if he didn't buy those damn tickets he would no longer be a student. Before he finished his transaction, the man at the other ticket window must have thought, "Hey, there are a good fifty people in line, perhaps I should open my window?" I immediately remembered how much I hate almost everyone. And, of course, I immediately felt guilty for getting angry, as I was pretending to be a student to save about fifty dollars on theater tickets.
Finally, the other man opened his window, and up to it stepped an older woman with messy reddish hair. She passed her student ID through the slot under the window, and I was relieved to see that this business was moving, finally. Then, a pause. "Your card has expired," the man said. "Oh, I know," the woman replied. "I don't get a new one until classes start on the 12th." "Well, I'm sorry," he replied, "I can't sell you a student rush ticket if you have an expired ID." "Hmm," the woman said. "How about my daughter's student ID? Would that work?" (See? Do you see what I mean about hating everyone? Everyone is terrible.) If you're going to break the rules (as I was doing), make sure at least you have an ID that works. Don't hold up the line! The man turned her down two more times, and the woman sulked away from the window. Then, she had a bright idea! She turned to another couple in line—a young man and a woman who appeared to be his mother and a student (they both had valid IDs!)—and asked if they could buy her a pair of tickets if she gave them cash. Right in front of the ticket windows! Again, if you’re going to break the rules, at least be discreet about it.)
The woman behind the ticket counter, naturally, started yelling. “The only people who may buy student rush tickets are students with valid IDs!” she shouted, reiterating the very basic policy. “You cannot buy tickets for someone who is not a student! We have sold out of student tickets and we’re really going above and beyond to offer seats to actual students!” My boyfriend told the woman in front of us in line, politely, that she should probably leave, while I, in a panic, started coming up with stories in my head in the event that I get caught using my old student ID. “Why are you in New York,” I imagined being asked at the ticket counter once I presented my Chicago university ID. “Oh, I’m taking a quarter off. Oh, and I have a Brooklyn zip code because I’m staying here for a while. That’s why I’m taking the quarter off. Do you want my old Chicago zip code? I can tell you which classes I’m signed up for next quarter!” My stomach started turning in knots, I started sweating. The game was getting intense. All I wanted was theater tickets, and I was simultaneously mad at everyone else in line with me and with myself for waiting until the last possible weekend to see this damn show. Meanwhile, the next girl in line did not have her student ID. (“What is wrong with everyone!” I snapped under my breath.)
Finally I stepped up to the ticket window (the man’s, not the shouty woman’s), handed my ID and cash. (Best not to leave a paper trail, I thought, as if this were Ronin or something.) He handed me, in return, a pair of tickets. And good seats! The entire exchange took 45 seconds. I was relieved, and rushed out of the box office as quickly as I could because it was really uncomfortable in there with the growing aggression on both sides of those metal gates. (Maybe caging in the employees of the Booth Theatre heightens the intensity of those ticket transactions?)
A few hours later, after sitting in our seats in the second row of the balcony, I realized how stupid it all was: the balcony was practically empty, with the first three and the last three rows filled with people. I turned to my boyfriend and said, “Can you believe this? There is no one here! And they turned people away at the ticket counter! They could have at least made sixty bucks by selling tickets rather than waiting for people to pay full-price!” And that, my friends, is what is wrong with the theater industry. Well, just one of them: I didn’t even like the play. I don’t feel bad telling you that. It’s closed now, after all.
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