It may seem as if Americans have never been more polarized than they are today. But America has always been full of splits, and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro has written a new book, Shakespeare in a Divided America, which explores those conflicts in a unique way. He examines how Americans responded to Shakespearean productions at key times in American history, and his investigations are full of insights and surprises.
Click on the triangle above to hear my interview with James Shapiro as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC, WBAI.org, and on Pacifica affiliates across the country.
“Art, and the Shakespeare-in-the-Park line, is long, but Life is short.”
One of New York City’s delights in the summer is the free theater offered by the Public Theater in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre. Usually it consists of two different Shakespeare plays, one that opens in June and the other in July.
To get the free tickets, you have to show up at the Delacorte in the morning and wait on line until noon, when the tickets for that evening, a maximum of two per person, are given out.
The problem is figuring out what time to get on the line; although there are many tickets given out, for a popular production it is possible to be on the line and have enough people in front of you so that the tickets run out before they get to you. There’s nothing worse than getting to the park and seeing a long long line in front of you, and wait for hours, only to be told that there are no more tickets for that evening.
If you call up the Public and ask them what would be a recommended time to get there, they are cagily unhelpful. They will refuse to suggest a time, rightly feeling, I suppose, that if they gave out a time, it would just mean that people would all show up a bit earlier than that and cause a bottleneck even earlier.
If you are 65 or over, or disabled—and they will ask for proof—you may wait instead on a “Senior” line. Each person may still get two tickets, one of which must be for Senior or a disabled person, but the other ticketholder does not have to be a Senior or disabled. But if you call up the box office about the Senior line, they still will be quite Sphinx-like concerning what time to arrive to guarantee a ticket.
So, since I waited on line today, I decided I would keep track of how many people showed up hour by hour. This way you can judge for yourself what time you might want to come.
So, a couple of caveats; the best day, hands down, to guarantee admission, is to come on a weekday while the show is in previews , before its official opening. Once the play gets its initial media reviews, even if they are not positive, potential audience members become more aware of the show and the lines get longer, earlier. With that in mind here’s what happened today, waiting to get tickets for tonight’s performance of Othello:
7:00 AM: I arrived at the park, and there were 35 people ahead of me on the regular line. There was no one on the senior line.
8:00 AM: There were now 80 people on the regular line and 10 people on the Senior line.
9:00 AM: The regular line now had 115 people waiting, and 15 were on the Senior line.
10:00 AM: The regular line grew to 140 people, and the Senior line to 30.
At this point, I stopped keeping track. But when tickets were distributed at 12 noon sharp, everyone got tickets.
I have to say this is the first time of many occasions waiting where the line seemed so short. But as I said before that is probably because it was a weekday, and the show was still in previews. Be aware that these guidelines would be very different on a weekend and once a show has been reviewed.
Hope you get to see some of the shows this summer, the productions are always fun, and a worthwhile theater experience.
The final scene of Othello, set in Desdemona’s bed chamber where Othello, standing over Desdemona while she sleeps, decides to kill her.
Performed here on the 1944 audio record by Paul Robeson as Othello, Uta Hagen as his doomed wife Desdemona, Jose Ferrer as the evil Iago, who falsely convinces Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, and Edith King as Iago’s wife, Emilia, who realizes with horror what her husband has done. I don’t think I’ll ever hear a better rendition.