The Playgoer: Camp Delacorte

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Camp Delacorte

The Times gives the Shakespeare-in-the-Park ticketline the rose-colored glasses view, as part of a feature on all those crazy free summer events New Yorkers have to camp out in the heat for.

Here's Public Exec Dir. Mara Manus on why this humiliating herding is not some unintended consequence but in fact part of the generous company's grand design for New Yorkers:

Ms. Manus said the line has taken on a life of its own, leading to extended interactions that are unusual in the big city. “The line itself is a community,” she said. “It’s part of a total experience of the park. We in fact have a donor — a high-end donor — who took her kids for years to stand in the line, because she thought the experience was unparalleled. She said it was the greatest thing. It’s a way of getting to know your neighborhood or community in a way you don’t in New York, because people don’t have a chance to stop sand say hi, much less talk for hours.”
Ironically, it's only the high-end donor types who can afford to wait on line. The same ones who can afford to buy the scalped tix. Or to just buy them from the Public for $150.

As that modern classicist Jean Anouilh once said: "What you get free costs too much."

Happy 4th!


Anonymous said...

This again?! Is this going to become your annual minoritarian kvetch? On the night I saw Romeo and Juliet, the fantastically age/race-diverse audience looked more than happy to be there. For free. And maybe my eyes deceived me, but most of them did not look like "high-end donor types" and yet they had miraculously managed to wait on line and get tickets. (It's summer, you know. People get vacations, take days off, go on the's surprisingly possible.) For the record, they looked neither humiliated nor herded. You should try it some time.

Nick said...

Nice read, Garrett. Standing in line as way of finding your community. Hilarious notion. The doublespeak of the Public selling the “free tickets” for $150 for a limited time is also an amusing spin. “These reserved seats are available only for a limited time to assure that the highest number of free seats are available for the general public on the day of the show.”

Good to know some things never change. The Bard is still entertaining his same audience of aristocrats and groundlings.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I know plenty of folks visiting from outside of New York who have opted to purchase their "free tickets" from The Public for several reasons:
(1) To ensure that they're not disappointed by a run on tickets.
(2) So that they don't have to get up in the middle of the night when they're paying $300+ per night (the going rate for a mediocre room) in the Big Apple.
(3) To garner a tax deduction.

I would also add that none of these folks are typical "high-end" donors. They're simply paying just a little more than what they'd pay to see a Broadway show. If those added dollars can help support the wonderful work of The Public, I'm all for it.

Anonymous said...

The next step, obviously, is for Manus to argue that "the line" is such an invigorating, ennobling experience that the Public can afford to cut out the plays altogether.

Anonymous said...

Always beware of those who want to force a sense of "community" on you... isn't that in part what the theater is supposed to provide in the first place?

Playgoer said...

To the first Anon, I just want to answer--Yes, I have "tried it", waiting on the line, that is. About 25 times. For about fifteen years. No, it's not always hell. Just the popular ones.

I'll concede that for some it's enjoyable. But I for one would rather the Public was less concerned with the PR "statement" of free theatre and put all that fundraising into a reasonable low ticket price (even in the $20-$30 range) so that we could actually reserve tix.

And just as there'll always be some who love the line and some who don't, there'll be some who find Manus' remarks charming, and some who find them offensively condescending. Never the twain shall meet, I suppose.

I would have more respect for the Public if their official answer to the complaints about the line were more honest, like: "It's inevitable that making something this popular free will lead to overcrowding. We regret any inconvenience to our audiences. We will continue to look for ways to give the widest diversity of people access to the Delacorte, while preserving our tradition of free Shakespeare in the Park."

Would that be so hard?

Anonymous said...

So you just want them to say they're sorry? Come resent Shakespeare in the Park because, by your lights, it's NOT free, because it costs YOU something that you don't have enough of (time). But why is your time more valuable to you than someone else's money is to them? The Public's policy represents an incredibly rare instance in which people with time are privileged over people with money, and that causes you to have no respect for their policy? Not a good enough argument.

It's interesting that your suggestion for how the Public could be more "honest" includes a statement about preserving free Shakespeare in the Park and giving a wider range of audiences access to it, since you've just suggested they start charging for tickets. How is that going to diversify their audience? The group of aggrieved middle-class white people who don't want to stand in a line that they'll add is, to me, not worth the people they'll lose.

By your own admission, you have found a way to get on that line 25 times. Free theater levels the playing field, so it seems pretty simple. If you wait in a line, you get in, no matter what your income level. If you want to avoid the line, you have the option of paying a high price for a reserved seat with money that helps subsidize free seats. Sounds fair to me.

I don't believe for a second that $20 or $30 seats will lead to a more diverse audience. The Signature Theater's cheap-seats program is considered a huge success because a whopping 20% of the audience was under 35. The Delacorte seems to beat that every night--at least, when I've been there. Your counterproposal stems from the specious assumption that "everyone" can afford $30 a seat, which isn't true.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon--I have to wonder,how long have you been working for the Public?

I don't think they should abandon the free Shakespeare, nor should they apologize for the long lines. But seriously, don't give me platitudes about how this self-appointed Ministry of Culture for NYC is using the long lines to build a sense of "community" out here.

The question is, if they love this communal idea so much, why don't you ever see "Oskar" or Mara out there on the line?

And BTW, as an African-American, even I resent your derisive citation of "white people" to make your point. Grow up, my brother.

Anonymous said...

I apologize for the "white people" comment, papaboom. It was cheap. Kind of like your suggesting that because I disagree with you, I must work for the Public. (For the record, I don't work in theater.)

Playgoer said...

Speaking of race...

I wonder how racially diverse the Delacorte audience REALLY is. From my own experiences, I can attest to younger audience, yes. But they mostly still seem pretty white to me, especially on the line.

The Public likes to brag about this, but is there any evidence other than "anecdotal"? I doubt it, since to scientifically collect this data would involve the awkward practice of just looking at everyone coming into the theatre and noting what color they seem to be. (Unlike the kind of demographic surveys offered to ticket buyers, where at least customers can volunteer such info and self-identify.)

Anyone want to offer any evidence--even if anecdotal?

Anonymous said...

Jesus. Yes, the Public is platitudinous and it's irritating. What theater in NYC doesn't give the press platitudes about how wonderful it is whenever it gets the chance. They charge for all their shows all year -- and have rush tix CHEAP for youngsters/oldsters/folks without $$. So two shows a year have a different model that works for enough people to fill up the theate night after night. Celebrate Brooklyn events at the Prospect Park bandshell are free with a $3 suggested donation. There are rows of chairs as well as some spots on the lawn, but it can get pretty crowded. So far, they have never sold out as far as I know; but if they did, and people had to line up hours in advance, would you suggest they start charging $30? Enough already wtih this rant about the line. It's as boring as, well, the line.

Anonymous said...

Um, how free is a ticket for a working-class audience member, whose vacation time is strictly regulated? Hourly employees just can't take a half-day off, when they feel like it, unlike salaried employees, who can go off the clock, as long as their work gets done, sometime.

The opportunity cost is more than than the hourly wage -- it could be continued employment, and yes, the NYSF is somewhat arrogant in assuming that people can take a significant part of the day off, just to feed their egos that people want to see their plays that bad.

Anonymous said...

Duh. Obviously. But that is hardly the fault of the Public Theater. If they charge for the tix then they are excluding those same people who can't afford them. Either way, poor/working-class folks can't afford the time or cash to get a ticket. But thousands of people do manage to get tickets -- including lots of theater students who do have the time to stand in line. The problem is in presenting Shakes in the Park as a genuinely free event for all New Yorkers when it obviously isn't; but the false PR doesn't make the event itself worthless. And charging for the tix is no solution.

Playgoer said...

I agree that the Delacorte policies are good for students. And for unemployed actors, of course. And neither of these should be neglected. In fact, these two groups are probably the ones I see most represented on the line when I go. Them, tourists, and older upper west side pensioners.

As for the working men and women of NYC, I hardly think, say, a $5 ticket would price them out. And in fact, if $5 could get you a reservation it would BETTER serve them than giving up a day of work for the line.

But once again, from my purely anecdotal and superficial eyewitness evidence (and at the Delacorte what other evidence is there?) I don't see a lot of diversity there of either race OR class. Yes, I'd say income diversity--struggling artists side by side with slumming Public board members out for a picnic. But that's about the extent I see.

Now I am curious what the audience is like the select days they actually hand out tickets in other boroughs. I wholeheartedly endorse that, and hope they do more of that. Even if it means few tickets to hand out in Manhattan.

And in as far as it DOES help students and struggling artists, the Delacorte shows are great, sure. But I'm always shocked at the lack of any (apparent) additional outreach to students. Students have to wait their turn with everyone else. It would be bigger of them to at least set aside some blocs of tix for student groups from schools, that can be reserved in advance without everyone having to miss summer school classes to go on line.