The early-morning line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets is a realm unto itself, an eco-system unlike any other. It's Occupy Wall Street, but instead of demanding a radical redistribution of wealth, we politely ask to see free outdoor classical theater. After hours and hours spent walking up and down this line, both for exercise and to break the monotony of waiting in it, I have come to know its subcultures pretty well. Find below a primer on the New Yorkers rich enough to invest an entire day in such a leisurely pursuit, yet poor enough to not have made it to the Hamptons.
Section One: Line-Dwellers
The Bard-Hards: In any other context, spending the hours of 5am-12pm wrapped in blankets, asleep on the ground would make a person homeless. At the Delacort, however, this makes a person the front of the line. Tickets, it should be noted, are given out in no particular order, so it's not like early arrival ensures better seats. Instead, these people pride themselves on being the truest fans, the Beliebers of the Public Theater. If you dare to speak in anything above a whisper as you walk past, they will glare at you with the condescension that only a people who voluntarily sleep in the park can muster.
The Book Group: The vast majority of the line is comprised of affable forty-somethings perusing the Wall Street Journal, watching Game of Thrones on an iPad, eating prepared snacks or having food delivered (even though, like, who needs onion rings before noon?). Sometimes an especially industrious nerd posse will set up a card table and play Dungeons and Dragons. There's always at least a few people reading that night's play, and a few more reading that night's play "For Dummies," to make sure they get the full experience. Around eleven a lonely dad will be visited by his wife and child. Dad is getting seats for himself and mom while mom takes care of the kids, who will be babysat tonight while mom and dad, bless them, nap in the third row of the theater.
The Merry Wives Of Windsor: Right around where the line bends out of sight of the theater is a coterie of obnoxious postgrads sipping Starbucks and loudly swapping theater-world gossip. They're all crammed onto one picnic blanket, Luna bars and Vanity Fair magazines spilling onto the jogging path. They are, you may have guessed, my friends and me. Stop by and say hi! We are happy to share our chocolate-covered almonds and our opinions on any upcoming teen lit television adaptations (Three of the four of us are named Elizabeth, so you can just refer to us as one brunette entity named Elizabeth).
The Innocents: Oh, the clueless tourists and optimistic first-timers who mosey in at ten expecting there will be enough tickets to reach the back of the line. Ignorant fools! You thought you could sleep in? On a Sunday? The last week of the run? Enjoy an evening at the movies or, more likely, three episodes of Jane The Virgin on DVR. May your failure be a lesson to you, and may you come back, wiser, next summer.
Section Two: Line-Rovers
The Sacrificial Interns: And Lo, They Shall Be Two. And Lo, One Shall Be Friendly, The Other Grumpty. So Sayeth The Prophecy. Friendly is the one you hope is on duty when you inevitably irk your neighbors to such a degree that they get the line-police to come shush you. Grumpy is the one harping about "the legacy of Joe Papp!" that you will "besmirch if you so much as think of selling your ticket for cash!" Both of the volunteers are drunk with power and high on self-importance. And once in a while, on drugs.
The Leafleteers: The SITP line is every panhandler-for-a-cause's dream: a captive audience! Sometimes it's three nervous young women bearing postcards for their all-female production of Taming Of The Shrew ("We're doing a commentary? On the misogyny?") that no one will see, other times it's a freelancer collecting signatures for minimum wage. I still feel for the one who asked Elizabeth P to sign a petition in favor of AirBnB. Little did he know how well-versed she is in the struggles of New York's hotel industry and the potential ramifications of the commodification of private space. Poor guy.
Musician Guy: The best. The best person you will see while in line, and possibly the best person in the tri-state area. Starting around a half hour before tickets are distributed, he plays movie scores and well-known pieces of music on the saxophone and/or flute for tips. A fun game is to try and think of the movie or song title (often Gone With The Wind or something Gershwin) before your friends. A not-fun game is to sing along. Looking at you, musical theater majors in yoga pants. Musician Guy just seems to be playing for the love of entertaining and he's actually good. But the best thing about his appearance is that it indicates that your theatrical purgatory is nearly finished. It's time to get those sweet, sweet tickets.