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.

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