Friday, April 21, 2017

Hamilton Lottery vs. Hamilton Cancellation Line

Ashley and I have been fortunate to be able to see Hamilton on Broadway twice. The first was a total lark -- Don entered the Hamilton lottery and won (on his first try). The second time also felt like a lark -- I stood on the cancellation line for "only" 7 1/2 hours, from what I have since read, I should have had to wait twice that long.

The first big difference is timing. I've heard 10,000 people a day put in for the lottery. They draw the winners a few hours early. You have one hour to pay. Then you pick them up just before the show. With the cancellation line you stand around all day and wonder if it will happen. Someone behind me called ours the "Believe in Magic" line.

The next big difference is price. The lottery is $10. The cancellation line was $229, though I heard they often have standing room only tickets in the way back for $40.

The third big difference is seating. The lottery seats in the front row (they added the second row to give more people a chance). The cancellation line is anywhere, though from what I read on the boards, many end up where we did (center orchestra).

April 2016 - front row

April 2017 - 10th row

How did the two performances compare? 

When you sit in the very front row you can only focus on a small part of the stage, pretty much whatever is happening right in front of you. Back ten rows and I gained a huge appreciation for the ensemble/swing actors and their intense choreography.

In the front row I could see Eliza cry. I could see that Angelica was wearing a wig. I missed those details from Row J. 

As for the performers, the first time we saw it we saw most of the original cast. They were as magical as the '69 Mets (not that I ever saw them play). They had incredible chemistry -- which the Tonys recognized since they received 16 record breaking Tony nominations, and 11 awards (one shy of the record). It will be nearly impossible to beat that, even though the night we went we saw understudies for Alexander Hamilton (Javier Munoz who went on to become the regular Hamilton after Lin-Manuel Mirandez moved on to new projects) and Aaron Burr (Austin Smith, who was so amazing I didn't believe Ashley when she said he was also an understudy). We did see the original Schuyler sisters, Lafayette/Jefferson, Washington, and others. 

This time Ashley was very impressed by Donald Webber as Hamilton, who wsa understudying for Javier Munoz, who we saw the first time. She said as she is taking acting this semester she is becoming more critical when she sees shows, so that is a high compliment. The chemistry just wasn't the same between him and Lexi Lawson, who plays his wife Eliza Hamilton. 

Ashley, who follows this far more than I do, was thrilled Lexi Lawson and Mandy Gonzalez (playing Angelica Schuyler) were both performing that night. She had high expectations about their performances and was not disappointed.

Some of the choreography seemed different. People were not as close to each other as I remembered, or the different angle messed with my memories.

April 2014 after seeing Aladdin
I'm still warming up to James Monroe Inglehart as Jefferson. I loved him as the Genie in Aladdin, but he played Jefferson (and Lafayette) so differently from Daveed Diggs (who won the Tony). He is an awesome person in real life. My nephew, Hayden, saw him on the street once and he stopped to chat with him for 20 minutes. Then after Hayden saw him in Aladdin he parted the seas to make sure he and Hayden got a great picture together. He always comes out to sign autographs -- even after we were told no one else was coming out after the 2 pm show (because there was a meet and greet with students), he came out afterwards and talked to the HamFans. He definitely puts his own twist on the roles and is a fan favorite. After the show he auctioned off his creating and recording a ring tone for one lucky member of the audience. The woman across the aisle from us won it for $2,000. That's when Ashley realized we were truly in the expensive seats.

It was great being able to see the entire stage. Our seats were elevated enough that our vision was not blocked, which is a plus. I did want to tell the woman behind us that if her daughter is too young to know the plot of the American Revolution and keeps asking questions during the show, then her daughter (who was also kicking the back of my seat until I put a stop to that with my librarian glare) is too young to see this particular show. Go across the street to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" instead.

We seriously do not intend to turn into one of those people who say "I've seen Hamilton 13 times" while the person you are talking to has not seen it once and has tried for the lottery daily, but we are glad we saw it a second time. Maybe someday Don will see it, too.

"Stage Dooring" it

Spring Break was upon us. The only downside to Don taking a new job is the no-vacation-time-for-six-months rule. Add to that Ashley was not cast in the spring play, which would have meant daily rehearsals, we had no plans for Spring Break.

The only plan we came up with was to spend a day in "the greatest city in the world" to "stage door" it. That's a verb, right? She would be "satisfied" if that's all we did.

After having some issues with finding parking in Princeton Junction, we had to run "non-stop" to catch our train. The plan was to hang out at the stage door while she met the actors and had them autograph the pictures she drew of them. We've done this a few other times when we've had other plans that brought us into NYC, this was the first time this was our only plan.

I ended up hanging out in the Hamilton Cancellation Line mostly because it was a penned off area where I could stand while I could still watch Ashley work her way to the stage door. Besides wouldn't it be cool to be "in the room where it happened?"

It was a Wednesday which meant two performance -- one at 2pm and the other at 8pm. Unlike a make-up heavy show such as Cats, or Elphaba in Wicked, these actors can show up 15 minutes before the show and still start on time. It probably drives the stage manager crazy, but that's what they do. Knowing this, we planned to arrive by 12:45 to allow time to get into place, and to still have one more train as a back up.

I was not with Ashley for most of her stage door experience. She is ecstatic that Gregory Haney invited her to be on his daily Snapchat show. After 24 hours the Snapchat disappears, so I can't link to it. I saw it and she was totally star struck. No pictures of Gregory Haney because I was in line when this all happened.

What has been a constant with these experiences is how nice and genuine everyone comes across. Their compliments on her artwork seem heartfelt and real. One actor (Voltaire) was thrilled to meet the person whose artwork he had see on Instagram (check her out at HamilArtt on Instagram). Unlike some, she keeps her artwork, and has them autograph it. She is thinking of scanning some and mailing copies to those who seem most interested.

We met that evening's Alexander Hamilton (Donald Webber). A really nice man, and very tall. He not only complimented Ashley's artwork, but made a point to tell me how talented my daughter is.

No idea who this is, but I know Ashley could tell you all about him.

"You drew this?" Voltaire wanted to buy it from her on the spot. She offered to trade it for two tickets to that night's show (by this point it was after 7:30 and we were still waiting). He said even he doesn't have that much pull. Planning to scan it and mail it to him this week. Unfortunately he was not in that evening's performance (must have been on standby just in case), which is why he was the last one to show up.

Voltaire wanted to know if we got into the show. With some encouragement, Ashley finally wrote him the next day that she did. She felt odd messaging them during the show to say "I see you, but you don't see me," especially to someone like Alexander Hamilton (he was understudying that night, the regular Hamilton (Javier Munoz) was out with a minor injury).

She squeals with delight anytime someone from the cast likes one of her pictures. As a mom, I'm glad she has found some positive, approachable role models. 

As we left the theater that night, I did remind her next time we go in to "stage door" it, that is not code for we are planning to buy last minute tickets to the show. Can't afford to set that precedence.

Shout out to stage door handlers Jimmy and Matt, who kept control of the situation, and Officer Sully whose presence alone kept everything at bay.

Some pictures from past stage door experiences:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hamilton Cancellation Line

Over a year after Don won the Hamilton Lottery, and several stage door visits followed by Ashley drawing many of the cast members (and posting them on Instagram as HamilArtt), Ashley and I went into NYC to "stage door it." We got swept up by the excitement and decided to stand in the Hamilton Cancellation Line (mostly because that was a quiet, safe place for me to stand). Yes, people actually do cancel their tickets and lucky people get to buy them at face value (with no extra surcharges, or scalping fees).

We arrived about 12:40 pm and saw a fairly short cancellation line. Last May Hamilton revised their cancellation line policies so that it starts fresh each day -- no camping out overnight, no chairs, no holding places. I swear when we were there last June for the Ham4Ham show we heard people were still camping out overnight for seats, but no longer. While waiting some people came by with stories as to why they had to sell their tickets. One man wanted $850 each for his 2 pm tickets, his only bit of credibility was that he offered to go to the Box Office to prove they were legit. Another man said he won the lottery that day and needed to sell his "Dear Evan Hanson" tickets at face value for $350 for two. Evan Hanson is the second hottest ticket on Broadway. We all offered him the $10 he paid for his Hamilton tickets, but his niece wanted the Hamilton tickets more. It turns out, this is a portion of the cancellation tickets offered each day -- people who are so used to trying the lottery and losing, they just keep trying and when they win they can't collect in time. Who carries $2,000 in cash on them just in case someone wants to sell you Hamilton tickets?

The line actually moved, but at 2:05 we were told they were at capacity, including Standing Room.

What to do? 

Should we hang out and try for the 8pm show or cut our losses and do other things with the day?

Buoyed by rumors of $40 Standing Room Only spaces, and by this point we were only nine away from getting into the next show, we decided to stay. There had been 16 ahead of us, but some left unable to wait.

"Sully" the police officer in charge of the crowds at "Hamilton," and before that "In the Heights" for the past seven years could not have been nicer. After the 2 pm show started he moved us to a holding pen area and explained the rules. We were to make friends with people nearby and swap out so we could use the bathroom (closest one at the Marriott next door), get food (pizza place across the street, or anyplace else), or coffee (Starbucks around the corner). As long as we behaved, we could stay. He did say he has in the past closed the cancellation line because people were out of control. It was quite certain he was in charge. It was also quite certain he wants this to be a positive experience. 

We made friends with Lulu, a woman playing hooky from work with her daughter. They came into NYC to see her brother and get Hamilton tickets. She was in it for the long haul. After Sully's speech I asked if she could save my spot while Ashley and I got real food. She did. I gave her my business card and asked her to update me if anything changes. She sent me a text saying the four people ahead of her got tickets for $229 each (currently the "cheap" seats price). The next couple snapped up tickets at $550. She was sure they would come out and take her next. 

Our food had just arrived. I thanked her, but kept eating instead. At this point I only wanted the SRO $40 seats, though I texted Don to see if he was okay with going up to $229 each (he was).

Only one group of five showed up since Ashley and I left at 2:10 and returned closer to 3:30 (time is a blur, maybe it was 2:15-3:15). Lulu and her family were still there, and vouched for us. The brother picked up pizzas for them. The daughter walked around with her uncle. Lulu was serious when she said she was in it for the long haul. They seemed put out we were reclaiming our space, on the other hand they were doing the same thing only their group was larger and could divide and conquer more. Only one of the group (a teenage girl, go figure) wanted to stand on the line. The other two teenager girls and moms did not. The one mom was annoyed the stage door keeper even told her about the line. Within an hour they left and we could comfortably reclaim our spot. By now it was 4:30. 

At one point the box office offered tickets for $550, but we all turned him down. Someone commented they would then go on TicketMaster and could get snatched up. Or they would be offered to one of us for $229 closer to curtain.

Time is a total blur on a day like this. I've since read some of the boards talking about the cancellation line, it all really does vary. There was a woman in line between us for the 2 pm show. She couldn't stay for the 8 pm show. As "small world" would have it, she and her daughter walked into The Counter while we were eating. I offered to fill her in the next day on our experience. I'll send her this link.

The matinee got out at 4:55. Sully had already explained after the matinee let out he was moving us under the marquis. We were happy because it seemed to be starting to rain (the rain held off until 7:45). By 4pm he confided in us he was confident we would all get tickets and that we would not pay more than $229 for those seats. This was a promise he did not make to those who arrived later, to them he specifically told them he would not make promises he could not keep. While waiting for the 8pm show only one woman tried to sell us tickets (a British woman with eight tickets, and only two people in her party who wanted to go, she wanted face value plus her fees, and only had a travel agent voucher as proof). She said she might come back later (we didn't see her again). We also had a visit from a pair of unicorns.

After the show there was a talk back for the 300 high school students in attendance. Lucky kids! Ashley's class trip was to "The Lion King" and did not include a talk back (it was still an awesome trip, but I have a fondness for talk backs). So we continued to wait in the holding pen.

Finally someone with the theater (not Sully) moved us to the steps. Ah! A chance to sit!! The woman behind me was really happy to sit. I really didn't care at this point. Sully came a couple of times to tell the new people about the rules. I left Ashley with my credit card and drivers licence just in case and dashed to the nearest bathroom. We were told we HAD to be in line at 7:30 because that was when we would start getting tickets. Once we got our ticket, we would not be allowed to leave the theater. At one point (I think around 6:20) they counted us and told us they would tell us why later (they didn't). By 6:45 they moved us again, this time by the stage door. Perfect spot! Throughout the afternoon Ashley had been hanging at the stage door showing off her artwork and collecting autographs on her drawings. She is building a following with Hamilton cast members and fans.

Total highlight for Ashley, around 1:30 Swing member Gregory Haney invited Ashley to be the subject of that day's Snapchat. The way Snapchat works, the image disappeared a day later, but she has total stars in her eyes talking about this. She also met other actors. Standing in this spot, I could take pictures of her meeting cast members. The group around us was into it. The woman behind me was taking pictures of the actors to share with her daughter who was in Philadelphia with her ex-husband (yes, the daughter was jealous).

And still the waiting continued.

Meanwhile, I'm texting Don updates. Will we come home soon or will we see the show? At 7:45 the group ahead of us leaves to get tickets -- we cheered! Then the brother comes back. Seems they only had two seats, not three. Boo hiss! It was raining now and he covered us with his umbrella (nice guy). Someone further back wondered where "he" came from, so I stood up for him. Sure it looked like he popped into the front of the line, but he had been there with us most of the day (except when he and his niece left to get food and left Lulu behind).

A couple of minutes later he was brought inside. 

Then they invited us inside!!! Our new friends cheered for us, too! It was nearly 8 pm. Curtain is at 8:05, technically. We had two options: take them or leave them. After asking about the $40 Standing Room Tickets, we took the ones being offered. No choice given for seats, just take them. Imagine my shock when I looked down and saw they were Center Orchestra Row F! Imagine my next surprise when I saw the guy ahead of us was sitting in the seat next to us. I asked him about his sister, and he said she was back three rows. I quickly offered to swap with her so they could sit next to each other. They accepted and we were in place before the lights dimmed -- and after I had a chance to text Don to let him know we were not coming home until after midnight.

Then we saw the people behind us go to their seat in the same section. A quick read of the boards indicates these seats are often up for grabs at the last minute. I have no idea why. We ended up in J 101-102, after leaving F 102-103. I think our seats were smidge better because the aisle tilts more after F, so we had a clear shot over the heads in front of us.

In the end, I have no idea how many people got tickets, or what time the last person got in the line. That is the risk you take. We were told by Sully you have a better shot on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but things I read imply you still have to arrive by 8 am for an 8 pm show, so our arriving at 12:40 pm for an 8 pm show was a better deal. True they release tickets throughout the day, so you might get seats earlier than 8 pm. It is all a game of chance. You might leave with nothing, and if you are willing to take that chance, go for it! For me, I was because the main purpose was for Ashley to show off her art work and talk to the cast members. School breaks and the weather are huge factors.

One takeaway -- I'm under the impression with the cancellation line tickets are $229 each, no additional fees, no matter where the seats are in the theater. I really think we had $500-$800 seats based on some of what I've heard.

Another takeaway -- someone quipped you only have time or money, but not both. There are professional line sitters who, for a fee, perhaps a cancellation ticket, will sit on line for you all day.

Yet another takeaway -- I read somewhere the price a few weeks earlier was $199 for the cancellation line tickets, so anticipate they will go up again.

One last takeaway -- the experience totally reminded me of the hours we spent waiting in character lines, especially at Princess Fantasy Faire in Disneyland. Ashley and I joked that was our training.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


I recently received advice that a good way to show the world what I do with my memoir writing business is to periodically share snippets of stories I am capturing. People love to read about others, and it will give a chance for them to see what I can do.
My first installment is from a 1981 interview between my great-grandmother (Gigi) and her newest grandson-in-law, my Uncle Tom.
Gigi, “Sure you played on the street. Then they had the organ grinder. You know how the organ grinder, they used to come around, they had a monkey, he had the little hat he’d put his hand out and people would put money in it. They always used to play this .. And I always liked to dance. And we kids would dance in the street, not in the gutter, not in the middle of the street, but on the sidewalk and we would dance and dance. And one time I think there was York Avenue and I think the next was First Avenue and the next was Second Avenue and I was so busy following him. I don’t know it was after six o’clock at night around. As soon as it was dark they would come away with these great big poles and they would light the lanterns, they had these gas lanterns [for the street lights]. And so it must have been supper time and my mother was getting worried you know that I wasn’t in the house. Somebody must have told her that I was following the organ grinder, and here I was oh, too long, long blocks away from home.
“I might have been about 8 or 9. I was dancing away. I was dancing away. I had no idea what time it was. I wasn’t even thinking about eating. That was the last thing I was thinking of. Dancing was my cup of tea and how I loved that. Oh and when the organ grinders came around there was always a group that followed them.”

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Attack of the Leprechaun

Ashley's school offered a blessing by their 
leprechaun as a fundraiser. For only $5 the school mascot would visit your home for 24-48 hours. It is for a good cause, so we emailed the school on Friday evening. Before we even had a chance to hand in our money, the leprechaun was dancing in our yard. Don noticed him first when he came home from swimming. He called up to Ashley who was initially a bit concerned to have a wee little man on our front yard. Her concerns cleared quickly and she snuck outside to take her own picture.

On Sunday afternoon we came home from some errands and decided to take one last picture -- this time in the sunshine. No sooner had we walked in the house and taken off our shoes did the leprechaun disappear in an unmarked black SUV with tinted windows driven by a red-haired lassie (okay, the SUV did have a school magnet on it). We still haven't found his pot of gold.

March Madness 2017

March is typically school play season. As we know people who enjoy acting, we end up seeing a lot of plays throughout the year, but especially in March.

Hopefully I won't leave anyone off of this list:

Little Mermaid at Notre Dame High School. Ashley helped build the sets for the show and ushered. I helped sell concessions. A couple of her good friends, Bridget and Rose, were sea creatures.

Rumors at Somerset Valley Players. It was great to see some friends from "Its a Wonderful Life" back on stage. Mike was the lead, and Lynda, though one of the last to come on stage, provided much reason for belly laughs as she giraffe walked across the stage. It was so unexpected, which made it that much funnier. 

Wax Museum at Aimee's school. Second grader, Aimee, dressed up as Pocahontas and recited facts about her to anyone who brought her to life.

Nimisha Ladva's one woman show: Undocumented girl: an immigrant's story was riveting. It put a face to the issues facing illegal aliens in this country. Nothing is black and white. Totally right or totally right. There is lots of room for grey and for learning from each other.

Secret Life of Harper Lee was another one woman show I saw in March. After reading Harper Lee's "second" novel, the actress decided to create a story about it. She captivated the audience with her voices, facial expressions, words, and emotions.

Seussical at Lawrence Intermediate School. We joined the rest of the family in cheering on the Mayor, Hayden, and the rest of the Whos in Whoville.

Though technically I saw The Wizard of Oz at St. Ann's School in April, I'll count it towards March Madness since the show dates are based on when Easter falls. It was odd seeing a show and not playing "Where's Ashley" or wondering what Don was doing backstage. They seem to have many more sets than when Don was stage managing -- very elaborate ones at that.

It seems like I saw less shows this year than in the past, but that might be because I only saw shows once. Next up, we are seeing The Wizard of Oz again (the other cast), and (hopefully) Breakfast at Tiffany's at Somerset Valley Players and Titanic at Newtown Arts.

Monday, April 3, 2017

One Woman Shows

My personal March Madness (where we see a bunch of plays in only 30 days) included seeing two one women shows. Both were excellent. It is amazing how with only one person, and a minimal set (in one case only a chair) the actress can convey a bunch of different characters and settings.

By the way, one of my favorite things to hear when I am in a theater is "there will be a talk back after the show."

The first was Nimisha Ladva's story of her own life as an undocumented illegal alien -- a topic that was not nearly as in the political spotlight when she started writing it two years ago as it is today. Nimisha is an award winning storyteller -- and it shows. Her show is titled "Undocumented girl: an immigrant story."

Basically Nimisha and her family moved to the United States from England when she was a pre-teen. Her father owned a restaurant. He paid taxes for himself and his employees. One day during a routine renewal of their visa they were denied. By this point Nimisha was an honor's student in college, and over 21. Her youngest brother was born in this country, so he could stay. The rest of the family could petition the courts as a family unit, where they had a good chance of being allowed to stay and become US citizens, but her case was not as strong. No explanation was given as to why the family was denied. 

Long story short, the family won. And she won. And they were allowed to stay and become US citizens. At one point she asks where is that "home" she is supposed to return to? England, where they had no family? Kenya, where she was born but did not have roots? India, where she has even less of a connection. The show put a human face on an impossible situation. Nimisha goes through the gamut of emotions to explain her story from when she was a little girl in England being ignored because of her ethnicity to meeting her husband -- a white, Jew to becoming an English professor at Haverford College.
With her stage manager, Chris

Portraying her mother she made the comment "when times changes and they are looking for someone to blame, they will spit on you." After her show there was a talk back and someone specifically asked her about that line. She said the took it out in November when it seemed Hillary Clinton would win the election and felt the line was too harsh. It was put back in following Trump's anti-immigration policies. She said in England the racism was blatant. They were happy to be living in the United States where it wasn't as in your face. Unfortunately she notices that has been changing.

Read a review HERE

The second one woman show was "The Secret Life of Harper Lee" at Kelsey Theatre. The actress, Prudence Wright Holmes, created the solo show after reading Harper Lee's "second" book "Go Set a Watchman," which portrays her father in a more human light. The show focused on her relationship with her neighbor, Truman Capote, and the rift they developed after he stole her research to write a book without acknowledging her. She felt compelled to create a show around her reclusive life.

Since there was a talk back after the show, I wish I read her bio before going to the show (maybe someday I'll learn). Turns out she grew up in Bexley, OH (where my cousins live) and wrote a play about life in Bexley during the Nixon years. Unfortunately I did not find a place to sign up for news about her future performances. I'd live to see her show "Bexley Oh!"