Becoming One of 5 Million at The Public Theater

Becoming One of 5 Million at The Public Theater

Nickolaus Hines

Black and red text against a backdrop photograph of Delacorte theater detail the four possible ways to get free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. It’s free, the tickets are accessible online for a millennial generation afraid of human-to-human contact and it is a chance to understand Shakespeare through the performances of award winning actors.

I dutifully entered my name into the ticket lottery the first day I moved to New York three weeks ago.  And then again the next day, and the next. I repeatedly pushed forward my name in an effort to join the cultural (yet cheap) elite who have seen the Bard’s words belted out in the most famous urban park in the world. 

Kate Burton, Lily Rabe, and Hamish Linklater in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Cymbeline, directed by Daniel Sullivan, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Kate Burton, Lily Rabe, and Hamish Linklater in The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Cymbeline, directed by Daniel Sullivan, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Theater is “an essential cultural force,” the Public Theater website writes. Founder Joseph Papp looked to bring theater into discussion as a public good. I had spent the last four years in Auburn, Ala., attending Auburn University, where theater is less of a public good and more of an aside meant only for a few eyes and ears. I was overdue for my vaccine of cultural force, but my public insurance wasn’t getting me the care very quickly.

“Hello – Thank you for signing up for the Virtual Ticketing Lottery for Free Shakespeare in the Park,” the first line of each denial email read. “Unfortunately, you have not been selected to receive tickets to tonight’s performance.”

Until I did. 

I was given seven hours to claim my ticket in Central Park. I admittedly had entered my name on this fateful day as an afterthought, having long since graduated from the school of sugar plum fairies and dreams where such things come true. I knew the tickets were for Cymbeline, but I didn’t know even the basic plot structure of Cymbeline.  Yet when I received the email detailing where to pick up my tickets, I knew I was about to join more than 5 million people and 50 years of Free Shakespeare in the Park.

While I sat in the outdoor, half-coliseum arrangement of the Delacorte Theater I reveled in being persistent enough to enter my name day after day. I was aware that it was a small task to ask for a quality free performance, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I had been randomly picked because of my sheer willpower, not a random selection computer program.

It didn’t matter that I was unfamiliar with Cymbeline, either. Each actor and each actress spoke with anachronistic, modern day inflections that carried the audience through Old English rather than dropped them. The artistic liberties that were taken showed through in song and dance numbers as well as audience interactions. The play itself piggybacked me into enjoyment even more grand than the satisfaction of being chosen to receive a ticket. I walked back to the subway at the conclusion of the play in awe at the quality directing and acting.

I finally had my four-year-overdue visit with the cultural doctor, and I did it without needing to take out a loan.

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