It starts with the journey: just barely catching the last bus of the night after a 12 hour shift only to curl up in a ball to keep away from a broken air vent spewing an unrelenting stream of winter winds. The bus stops on an empty street five miles from the theatre. With pepper spray grasped tightly in-hand, it is a miserable walk to Seventh Ave., complete with aching feet, hoping for a dry spot to set up camp.
Shoulders are weighed down by a monstrous, overstuffed book bag. A heart soars as a spot reveals itself underneath the shadows of the Schuyler Sisters, complete with a protective alcove in case of rain. There are only two other people in line. The night is spent lying in a sleeping bag, the cold of the midnight sidewalk seeping through the bottom, rendering the warmth of the many HotHands useless.
Valuable belongings are stuffed haphazardly at the bottom of the sleeping bag to prevent thievery in the dark of the night. A restless sleep on the cold ground is so very different from the warm bed that lays empty states away. Was this all worth it? It is cold and uncomfortable. Why not simply sacrifice savings for comfort?
It gets better, upon waking in the earliest of the early morning to the rare sounds of city silence: an occasional car passing by with its near-silent tires rolling on the worn gravel, a homeless man setting up his roost and a mother walking her children to daycare. Sleeping bags rustle as others start to wake. A magnificent summer sunrise warms and stirs young skin. Limbs stretch and yawns break the peacefulness.
New friends take turns getting coffee, holding one another’s places in line. Soon the comforting smells of bagels, bread and bacon fill the air, not just with the scent of breakfast but also with the delighted excitement that the start of an exhilarating adventure might bring. The day is a blur of newly formed friendships, comparisons of Broadway experiences, exchanging of contact and social media information and singing playful renditions of “My Shot.”
The sun rises higher, possibly to get away from the insane grouping of theatre kids with limitless energy, and, in turn, the line grows longer. Everyone hopes for the miracle of cancelled tickets just so they might have the chance to purchase them for far less than they are worth. The day drags on, and excitement turns into nervousness. The line grows shorter as those in the back surrender to the unfortunate fact that they will not get to see the performance that night.
Those in the front anxiously await the arrival of the theatre-hired guard who sits in front of the line to make sure the order stays the same and announces the availability of premium, standing room and house tickets. Finally, house tickets are announced, and, through a frenzy of activity, the parties present are each charged a mere fraction of the advertised ticket price.
The group splits apart to fill the available seats just as the performance starts. An angry woman yells about how it is not fair to those who had paid a fortune for their tickets, but nothing could possibly ruin this experience. The angry woman is forgotten, along with all of the events of the day — both incredible and exhausting. “Hamilton” had begun, and suddenly 26 hours in the same clothes was well worth it.
The true fans wait at the stage door, hoping for a glimpse or autograph. Then there is a blur of commotion as last minute goodbyes are said, and suddenly the city is flashing by as the bus speeds out of the city. It is funny how warm it feels despite the wintry air. Despite the smell and discomfort, it is hard to feel anything but absolute bliss.
The Broadway cancellation line is not easy by any means. It is a commitment that involves traveling by the cheapest means possible, feeling an endless, bitter cold all the way to the bones and wearing the same clothes for at least 24 hours. The line’s successful members spend the night sleeping fitfully on the filthy city street, and there will be few chances to explore.
There is worry and nervousness as the performance draws closer, and those in line suddenly become unsure of their chances, despite earlier boasting of likely odds. Not to mention, of course, the very likely chance that tickets will not make themselves available for the line. On the slight chance that all of this time and effort comes to fruition in the form of house tickets, its recipients will spend the show with their belongings shoved by their feet.
None of this, however, compares to the utter joy felt in the presence of so many people with the same interests getting to sing songs unknown to many, sharing vast performance histories and revealing hopeful dreams of performing on the biggest stages with the biggest names. Though the cancellation line holds plenty of unpleasantness, the experiences and memories its patrons go home with are more magnificent and memorable than anything short of the performance itself.