Camping out for Shakespeare

Courtesy the UMS, The Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC) will be in residence in Ann Arbor once again, and will perform Shakespeare's first Roman play - Julius Caesar, the sequel - Antony and Cleopatra, and his last play - The Tempest.

Tickets were up for advance purchase early this March at ridiculously high prices and were bought by people, to borrow from Lennon, who jangle their jewellery. Tickets that went on sale to the general public were also sold-out in a week. Students had to wait a little for the cheap tickets to not-so-cheap-seats. Patrick Stewart a.k.a. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who performs the leading roles of Antony in Antony and Cleopatra and Prospero in The Tempest, had some role in the frenetic sales by appealing to the Trekkies. The University, in its infinite wisdom and judgement, reserved 2500 tickets for 'poor' students, but quite characteristically did not forgo the opportunity to make a few extra bucks. Tickets were reserved for students registered in classes that teach drama, Shakespeare, acting, etc, which earn fat fees for the University. So, in effect only 443 tickets out of the 2500 tickets were available to the general student population.

So what do you do to ensure you get tickets? Camp outside the box-office door! So On Friday at 9pm, exactly 12 hours before the doors opened, we took our folding chairs and stood in line. We were still #22 in the line. There were other crazy people before us and after us. Not long after we settled ourselves in our chairs, a guy walked in with a shoulder-bag packed with a poncho, bananas, a flashlight, a blanket, energy bars and hat. Almost instantly, he took charge of policing the line and ensuring there were no crooks jumping the line. Then a guy walked in with his guitar, people got out their cards, scrabble sets and it did not take long for it to soon turn into some sort of picnic. Waiting in a line overnight is the safest and best way to experience a refugee-camp situation. People were willing to share coffee, keys to nearby building with restrooms, extra blankets, space in the tent in case it rained.

We, the the people who came before midnight, felt we were the 'privileged few' since we were almost guaranteed tickets unless 120 people emerged from a large tent at the head of the line. It was suspiciously large and rather quiet, and it seemed to suggest to the rest of us that at the moment those chaps were digging a tunnel. As the night progressed, more people showed up and set up shop behind us, and all that seemed to be missing from the scene was a camp-fire. Throughout the night we were visited by people from the UMS checking to see if were okay. From the glimmer in their eye, I could tell that once upon a time, they too had camped out and had loved every moment of it. At 2am, the director Ken Fischer showed up with a camera and members of the Emerson Quartet who performed that night to show off the legendary Ann Arbor fanaticism for art and culture. It became colder and started to rain, but the thought of those folks who would wake up at 4am and still find themselves ticketless made us feel happy and warm. In the morning we gloated even more as the line by then had gone around the sidewalk, to the street, and around the block and we couldn't help but smirk at the lost causes who trooped in at 6 am. For the ones who walked in after 8am we had no respect whatsoever.

The funny thing about all the people who camped out that night was that none of us were Shakespeare fanatics, but rather we were all doing this because we all wanted a story to tell - 'How we slept on the sidewalk in the cold and the rain, to get tickets to a play that we couldn't afford otherwise'. If you ever wonder whether you had a good life or not, just think about whether you have these stories to tell...

By morning we were rather groggy and I almost lost the hard-won tickets by misplacing them somewhere. That would have been some story!
Hmmm,so much drama, for drama.


Anirudh said...


Sid rege said...

Well ghats, I suppose I would have been part of those poor sods who set the alarm for 7, dragged themselves out of bed finally by 7:30 after much herculean effort, ran to the line all the while praising themselves at the level of alacrity they had shown, only to find maniacs like you a mile ahead in the line. To those unfortunate sufferers, who get neither tickets nor memories nor respect, tis to them that I raise my hat!!

PS. Ghats, I tried my level best to raise money for your marathon. Mailed the damn IITians and spoke at length to friends and neighbors. Came up with a fat zero! So how are you doing on that front?

Ashutosh said...

I salute your determination for old Bill's nuggets!

Ashutosh said...

Reminds me of the time when we used to sleep in college and then line up at 4 a.m. for the Purushottam Karandak competition at Bharat Natya Mandir. There still used to be about 50-100 people in the line even if we got there at 3.30

Anonymous said...

Actually your information about the Univeristy getting fat fees from students enrolled in classes is incorrect. Lab fees were exactly the same price as student tickets, and all fees went directly to UMS, the presenter, which, on a side note is a seperate organization from the University of Michigan. Additionally, the tickets the originally went on sale included various priced tickets, some of which were actually less than the student priced ticket.

Hirak said...

Unfortunately, I did not have my ear close to the ground to hear about the cheaper tickets. Sad! I also assume you meant they were equivalent or better seats.
* *
My argument:
Is it right to reserve so many seats for students enrolled in classes?

As I see it - it cost the university a lot of money to be the main sponsor of the residency and it decided to mitigate some of the costs by offering special courses. While lab fees were exactly the same price as student tickets(3x30=90$), students had to pay for the 1,3 or 4 credits for these special courses.
In effect, the students did pay some sort of premium, and in return the university saved them the trouble of standing in line and assured them the hard-to-get tickets.

I know that quality performances don't come cheap and the UMS cannot offer more than a certain number of student tickets. I felt that the fraction of the 'open' students tickets(441/2500) was rather small.

I feel a little bad for the 400 and more students behind me who had to go back without any tickets after standing in the cold and rain. Only if they had registered for the class....

I am aware that the UMS is a separate organization and it raises its own money. I called up the UMS ticket office and they told me that the student discount is given by the UMS and is not subsidized by the university.