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‘Hamilton’: Inside the Insane 100-Hour Wait for a Ticket

Drama Desk nominations 2015 full list
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Debbie Alsebai has spent 55 hours of her life waiting for a ticket to “Hamilton.” The first time she tried to snag one of the very few seats released to the cancellations line before each performance, she stood for 12 hours before having to return home to Boston. The second time she waited for 25 hours before she gave up.

“Twice I’ve been next in line, but I had to go back to work,” said Alsebai, a teacher of cooking classes for kids. “This time I’m camping out for the week.”

For her third try, she’d claimed a spot near the front of the cancellations line at around 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. Eighteen hours later, she sat on the sidewalk in a beach chair a few yards away from the Richard Rodgers Theater’s box office, shaded from the morning sun under a scaffolding. In the spiral notepad on her lap, she composed a multi-page letter explaining her love for “Hamilton.” She intended to send it backstage along with a plate of homemade cookies, baked in the star shape of the “Hamiliton” logo.

“Hamilton” is the hottest ticket on Broadway any day of the week, but for extreme Hamilfans like Alsebai, the urgency to see the show has reached a fever pitch. That’s because Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical’s creator and star, will leave the production after the July 9 performance, as will his co-stars Phillipa Soo and Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr.

“It used to be all about Lin, but I’ve listened to the CD so much and now I’m so into all of the performers, like from the dancers on, that I need to see it with Lin’s original thought when he was writing it,” Alsebai said. “I want Christopher Jackson as Washington. I need to see that. And then I can see it with a multitude of other wonderful talent from this country. But there’s something about seeing it with him and all of the originals.”

Superfans have been known to camp out all night for the premiere of “The Force Awakens” or the release of the newest iPhone. But the “Hamilton” hysteria brings the phenomenon to Broadway, where even one night in line is a rare thing. Now the fervor for Miranda’s last show has stretched the wait into multiple all-nighters, the likes of which Times Square hasn’t seen in recent memory.

“It used to be just one overnight to get in to ‘Hamilton,'” said fellow linesitter Sam Perez, a 40-something retiree from Texas who had seen the show twice before through the cancellations line. “Then it went up to two, and then three, and then four overnights to get in. Ever since Lin announced he was leaving, that was it. People that came last Tuesday didn’t get in until Saturday.” Perez said he expected to get into one of the July 2 performances, after 85 hours on the line.

There are other ways to catch “Hamilton” before July 9 — but it’ll cost you. According TiqIQ, a secondary ticket aggregator, the current average get-in price for Miranda’s last show is $2,686, more than 70% higher than the $1,373.51 average for all shows. The most expense ticket TiqIQ has sold to that show is $8,500; the costliest current listing rings in at $11,200 for a prime location in the center orchestra, row F. Those are Super Bowl prices, according Chris Matcovich, TiqIQ’s VP of data and communication.

Back in October, fans could have scored a ticket for July 9 for $226, according to secondary ticket seller SeatGeek. Now the company is reporting an average sale price of $2,830, with a median listing at a whopping $5,306. Ticketer Rukkus goes so far as to estimate that although “Hamilton” makes up only 30% of the tickets sold in the secondary ticket market, its accounts for a whopping 79% of revenue.

But for those unable or unwilling to shell out, there’s the purgatory of the cancellations line. That means long hours for an inconsistent slow-drip of tickets, amounting to as many as six or seven tickets per performance — or as few as zero.

By Wednesday morning, more than 50 hopefuls had queued up in a chaotic, itinerant line that had at first formed across the street, dodging an official theater policy that forbids line formation before 10 a.m. After 3 a.m., they shuffled over to the Rodgers, lit by the outdoor video screens that run all night at the Church of Scientology.

They’d slept, or tried to, on the sidewalk in front of the theater. “We had yoga mats,” said Kaili Torres, a college student from Florida studying film at NYU for the summer. “Some people had air mattresses. Some people had pool floats.”

Spot number 24 on the line was occupied by bespectacled, dreadlocked Tristan Venable, a professional line sitter ($25 for the first hour, $10 for each additional half hour). He’d gotten there at 11 p.m. Tuesday and expected to be camped out for at least another 50 hours, for tickets to the Friday night performance. (Approximate price tag: $1,375, plus the cost of the ticket.)

He’d successfully waited for “Hamilton” tickets about 20 times before, he estimated, and he had a system down. He’d brought a foam pad, a yoga mat and a sleeping bag, plus an iPad to catch up on TV. He usually got food from Junior’s, or the pizza shop across the street, or the Duane Reade around the corner. He’d regularly use the bathroom in the nearby Marriott Hotel, at least until the lobby shuts down to non-guests at 12:15 a.m. “So about five or six o’clock, I’ll stop drinking,” he noted.

By Wednesday morning, Venable and some of his fellow linesitters had migrated to spots under the back awning of the Imperial Theater, where “Les Miserables” is playing. They shared the sidewalk with a separate, growing line of more than 100 people waiting for a separate in-person ticket lottery that happens at “Hamilton” every Wednesday.

Half a block away, the people at the front of the line, like Alsebai and Torres, had every expectation of getting a ticket — if not to one of Wednesday’s show, then to Thursday’s. “Now there’s the urgency of the original cast going,” said Nora Bode, an NYU summer student from Germany who waited in the line with Torres. “We’re not leaving before we get in.”

“We want to see it with the creator, you know?” agreed Torres, who added that her parents had had “Hamilton” tickets a while back but, not knowing they were gold, gave them away. “So now we’re here sleeping on the streets,” Torres said. “We didn’t tell my mom.”

Her mother can rest assured that there are far more worrying ways to stay out all night in New York City than camping on a midtown sidewalk with a group of friendly fans who all seem to be rooting for each other. To hear the linesitters tell it, everyone seems to play by the rules of first-come, first-served, with different parties willing to help hold spots while people rotate out to grab food or use a bathroom at a nearby hotel. Before taking temporary leave from the line, some people shoot a video on their phone as backup documentation, and the professional linesitters help keep order.

By Thursday morning, Alsebai and Torres had both gotten in — but Torres’ friend, Bode, hadn’t yet. “Now I’m number one in the line. I’m getting in today,” she said confidently.

LeeAnn Fay-Ellis and her daughter Meredith, in town from New Hampshire, had given up on the line on Wednesday when they realized they were number 61 in the queue. They remained undaunted, but the clock was ticking. On Thursday morning, with their midnight departure looming, Fay-Ellis said she planned to kick in money to help her daughter pay for one of the ultra-pricey tickets available on the secondary market.

“One of my greatest regrets is never seeing The Eagles in concert,” said Fay-Ellis. “I don’t want her ever to have that regret. She will be in that theater tonight, one way or the other.”