He is not throwing away his shot … to see Hamilton

Benjamin Singer, my longtime friend since my sophomore year at Northwestern University, really, really, really likes the Broadway musical Hamilton. He obsessively memorized the musical’s soundtrack, he’s organized Hamilton karaoke nights in New York, and dressed up as Hamilton characters for the Jewish dress-up holiday of Purim (pictured below, left).

But, due to the show’s immense popularity (and most recently, its 11 Tony awards), he hadn’t actually seen the musical. He has entered the show’s ticket lottery more than 100 times, to no avail. Upon hearing that show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda would be leaving the cast July 9, Benjamin took measures into his own hands.

That’s why this past Friday, when Benjamin and I were scheduled to have our weekly phone call, he was calling from the cancellation line to get last-minute Hamilton tickets. The line where he’d been for 72 hours straight. At the time of our call, he was hoping he’d get into that night’s show. (Did he get in? You’ll have to read the end of the interview!)

Learn more about Benjamin’s fascinating experience in this Hamilton line in my interview with him below.

Can you try to describe how big of a Hamilton fan you are?
When I was moving to New York, I started listening to the show. It resonated with me a lot. I was moving to New York and working for a revolutionary political organization, and there are a few common refrains in the show — “In New York you can be a new man,” “I am not throwing away my shot,” “They are asking me to lead,” and Hamilton’s desire to “rise up.” I started obsessively listening to the show and by the end of my first week after discovering it, I had already memorized the songs. I thought, wow, it would be a lot of fun to get together with other people who are also obsessed with this powerful uplifting show and sing it together. So I decided to host Hamilton karaoke in my apartment. We used YouTube videos people had created for karaoke and sang Hamilton songs all night. I’ve proceeded to host it three more times in public places and it’s a lot of fun. Then for Purim I dressed up as a founding father of America, and I co-wrote a Hamilton Purim parody.

Tell me about your week.
Well, I have been stopping by the Hamilton cancellation line over the last few months to see if I could get tickets but I was always too far back. There were always two or three people who were lining up for the next day’s line. I thought, if I show up at my usual time, at around 5 p.m., I could probably be the third or fourth person in line for the next day, which means I’ll get in. It’s a crazy idea, to camp out overnight on 46th Street to get a ticket but if that’s what I have to do to avoid paying $1,000 and seeing the original cast before they leave this summer, then I’m going to do it.

When did you get in line? [Benjamin and I spoke on Friday, June 17, 2016]
I got in line on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and I was the 28th person in line. As of now, Friday at 4 p.m. EST, I am the fourth person in line.

Why haven’t you seen the show yet?
I’ve not seen the show yet because it’s sold out through March of next year, and tickets on the resale market are several hundred dollars to $2,000 each. I’ve entered the lottery every day since it has gone online and I’ve been in town and I’ve never won, plus many times in person.

How many times do you think you entered?
Between in person and online, I probably entered it 100 times.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in November!
Yes, with some of my best friends [editor’s note: ME!], 22 of us are going to see Hamilton on Nov. 17, 2016 in Chicago. But I want to see it now because I want to see as much of the original cast as possible.

What kind of a line is this?
This is a cancellation line. They generally have about four and 10 cancellations per performance. These are because VIPs don’t show up, or people who won the lottery online don’t show up. Occasionally someone legitimately calls and cancels, too.

If you get in, how much will you have to pay?
Standing room tickets are $40; regular tickets are around $200; VIP tickets are about $500.

And you’re prepared to pay that amount?
Yeah, at this point, it’s the only way I will be able to see the original cast. The biggest reason for this is so that I can move on with my life! There are so many great shows I could be seeing, so many friends I could be spending time with, so many things to explore while I live in New York. I just need to see the show so I can move on and do those other things.

Who are some of the other people in this line?
The first guy in line is named Adonis. Adonis is a professional line sitter — he is getting paid $12 an hour to wait in line.

Who is paying him that money?
There are line-sitting companies that send people to wait in line on Black Friday, or when you need a new Social Security card, or when you want to see Hamilton. These people will sit in line for you. The client pays $20 an hour, the company takes 40%, and the line sitter takes 60%.

What does Adonis do in the line as a “professional”?
We call Adonis (pictured below) our “camp counselor” because he is our charismatic and capable leader. Adonis serves many roles — he keeps up morale, he keeps everyone orderly, he makes sure we’re in the right place at the right time to keep the order of the line. He is the liaison with the theater to ensure that we are cooperating with what they need from us so we can keep waiting in line.

If he gets in tonight and you don’t, who will do those things tonight?
There’s another professional line sitter named Ben, he’ll probably do it.

The theaters don’t care about these line sitters?
The theaters do care; I don’t think they are technically allowed by the theater but they tolerate it because the line sitters help keep order in the line.

How have you been taking care of eating, sleeping, and going to the restroom while in line?
The important thing to keep in mind is that we have basically formed a mini society in line. We take care of each other. We bring each other food, keep each other’s spots in line while we buy food or while we charge our laptops and phones in the Marriott next door. Another fun thing is that Adonis and some of the other line sitters buy memberships at Planet Fitness so that they can shower. I went with Adonis because he’s allowed to bring one guest, so I was able to shower there on Thursday. Or was it Wednesday? The days all blend together. OMHashem is it Father’s Day on Sunday? Oh crap.

Where do you sleep?
Our sleeping arrangement has been constantly evolving. The first night was a really new experience for me. I don’t have a sleeping bag right now. Nina had blankets I could use but I didn’t really have anything to sleep on. A few of us went foraging for cardboard boxes, and we found some in Times Square. Over the next hour, I adopted a new mindset looking around the street, wondering, can I sleep on that? Can I sleep on that? Then last night I slept on an inflatable pool.

Are you able to get good sound sleep?
I’m not sure how much sleep I’ve actually gotten each night, but I’m guessing around four hours.

Have you been able to get work done?
Yes, I’ve gotten a lot of work done. I normally work remotely, so it’s not that far-fetched of an idea for me to do this as long as I can talk on the phone and use the internet. I actually feel like I’ve been a pretty good manager while I’ve been here. I had a lot of calls set up with people who I work with, so I was constantly on those calls. When necessary I’ve gone over to sit in the Marriott’s lobby for a meeting or two so I could have reliable wi-fi. I’ve been designing graphics, working on our press strategy, and answering e-mails.

How do you know your place in line and when are you allowed to leave? Do you get a number like at a deli counter?
There are two things to remember for leaving the line — one, we take care of each other and we self-police; two, we use video documentation as a reference. We line up periodically, especially after each show starts and each morning. Someone holds a phone and takes a video with people calling out their numbers. That video can settle any disputes, like if someone claimed they were fifth in line even though we never saw them before. We record a new video each morning and periodically throughout the day because our numbers change after each show when people get tickets.

Are passersby confused by what you’re doing?
Yes, they are constantly asking what we’re here for. They ask us if we’ve tried the lottery to get tickets. Of course we tried the lottery! The lottery is almost impossible to win. More than 10,000 people enter it every day for 20 tickets. This is our last resort.

How excited are you for the show?
VERY excited, though I’ve tried to manage my expectations since I’ve listened to the soundtrack 100 times. I wonder if seeing it live will only provide a marginal increase in pleasure.

Are people singing songs in the line?
We occasionally sing out loud together but it’s mostly pretty chill. I would say there’s not too much excitement — most people in line aren’t getting into the show that day. But for those of us in front, there’s excitement and anticipation.

Did you have to cancel any plans this week to be in the line?
There have been one or two things I’ve needed to reschedule, but otherwise, I’ve been able to keep all of my commitments.

Have you gone home at all?
During the shows, we’re not allowed to be in front of the theater because there are hundreds of people waiting for the cast to come out. So that’s a time when whoever is in charge tells us — okay, everyone, be back here by the time the show ends, and that is a time when I was able to go home for a super fast shower and to gather more supplies. We basically have two hours of a break in the line.

How many people are behind you in line?
Right now, about 20-25.

And some of these people will be out there for days?
We’re telling people it’s a three-night wait.

Has it rained at all?
Yeah, it rained the second night, but luckily we were under the awning, but basically I stayed mostly dry.

Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself, about society, about culture from being in this line?
I think the power of the crowd to self-regulate and come up with rules that benefit the whole is one thing that this line demonstrates very well. I’ve also noticed Adonis’s leadership qualities. I’ve always said this, but the people you meet in the Hamilton cancellation line are the best people. I’ve been in two or three Hamilton cancellation lines but I’ve never slept overnight. I always have fantastic conversations with people — about theater, about government, about life. They’re just very thoughtful, smart, interesting, fun people.

Why did you leave those lines?
I wasn’t prepared to stay overnight. I had just stopped to wait for the day, but I didn’t have toiletries or a sleeping bag or anything. I thought the idea of staying overnight was crazy. But now, desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

EPILOGUE

We made it into the “room where it happens”! About 25 minutes before the show on Friday, after 73.5 hours of waiting in line, everyone ahead of us had gotten in. Then a theater staff member walked towards us with a big smile on her face, and took the rope aside. I said “One or two????” And she said, “Two!” We were so excited to find that our seats were front row, in the center section, and we were sitting by our friends from line! These were lottery tickets, so the winners must have not checked their e-mails. We had to pay $199 each, but of course it was worth it to sit front row center. We took pictures in front of the stage, then I went to buy a bunch of merchandise before the show, and then the magic began.

Everyone around me sobbed and laughed the whole night. The emotional impact was dulled for me because I already knew the whole show and its ups and downs. But there’s no substitute for seeing Lin’s acting up close, and having the actors look you in the face. My favorite part was Burr’s dance at the end of the Room Where It Happens. That man is so graceful. I could watch him dance all night.

Ultimately it was so worth the 74 hours waiting to get to sit front row, center, for the world’s hottest ticket to the most incredibly entertaining and uplifting show, and not have to pay an arm and a leg. I will never forget it. And, thanks to Lia’s “Bril-lia-nce” blog, neither will you! Thanks for reading.

“The world will never be the same.”

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