On the line for Hamilton tickets

Die-hard Hamilton fans brave heat, sleep outside theater to score tickets

July 10, 2016

They call it HamilCamp—and as exclusive as it is, you can’t buy your way in. If you’re lucky—and I mean truly lucky—you might be able to buy a ticket, after days, possibly nights, spent camping outside Richard Rodgers theater on 46th Street waiting for the chance to catch one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s last few performances in his Tony-winning musical, Hamilton, about none other than former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.

“I’ve been here since last Wednesday, and I’ve only left to use the bathroom and eat,” said Mandy Olson, 19, from Waterbury, CT, whom I met on her ninth day of keeping vigil. She hasn’t seen Hamilton, but is a die-hard fan, equally in love with each member of the original cast, whom she can count off without blinking. That’s why she had to see it now, she said, and had to wait until all of the leads were in town. Which meant giving up the chance to score seats earlier in the week when Daveed Diggs and Miranda were out.

“I’m waiting for the whole cast,” she said. “I just couldn’t let myself see it any other way.”

Adoring fans devoted to the creative genius of Miranda, a man who managed to turn a little-loved founding father into a cult—and cultural—icon, showed up with backpacks and travel pillows, even air mattresses, willing to wait for as long as it takes to see his genius live. But their options were limited. Tickets to the sold-out show fetch thousands of dollars on the resale market, and Miranda’s run, as well as that of Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. and nominee Philippa Soo, also known as Aaron Burr and Mrs. Hamilton, ended after the 8 p.m. show, July 9.

Outside of scoring a $10 front row lottery seat with Powerball-esque odds, a self-proclaimed HamilCamper’s only hope was to score a cancelled ticket, the seat of a lottery winner who didn’t check their email in time, or an offer to stand on the mezzanine for a bargain price of $40.

“It’s totally worth it. This is the only time it will ever be all of them together, and I want to see them in the roles they originated,” said Emma Elam, 26, from Los Angeles. Her cross-country trip was more of a pilgrimage, she said, to see and hear the men and women of Hamilton live, for the first time. When the Thursday matinee rolled around, Elam was going on 36 hours of waiting in line and was headed for another six. She had spent the previous night curled up on a towel next to the theater, but still passed up the chance at a matinee seat because Miranda wouldn’t be there. She refused to see it any other way.

“Hell no! I can’t see it without him. I have to see the creator, see the man with the charisma to make all of this. He’s like the Tony Kushner of our generation,” she said, referring to the award-winning playwright of Angels in America, which opened on Broadway in 1993.

Unbelievably, she wasn’t alone in her fervor. More than a handful of cancellations rolled in once ticket holders got wind of Miranda’s absence. But even then, there were plenty of campers tired of waiting and fearful of not getting another shot, ready to hand over hundreds of dollars, depending on the seat (Cue Miranda’s big song in the first act, “My shot”).

What’s even more incredible, is that the line of campers—upwards of 60 at times, and as few as 20 at others, was entirely self-governed, cognizant of who came and when. If you left for a bathroom break without leaving a partner behind, you lost your spot and were sent to the end.

Things got rough. When a woman with two children attempted to cut the cancellation line before the evening performance on July 7, a brawl nearly broke out. The cops were called, cancellations sales were cancelled and hearts were broken. “We really thought it was our chance,” Elam said. “And to do that, with your kids? What kind of example is that?”

To prevent a repeat during the final days of Miranda’s run, the campers organized further, appointing a line-keeper with a written log of who arrived after whom, what show they wanted in on, what price-point they were willing to pay and whether they were solo or a pair. The theater maintained a hands-off attitude day-after-day, according to Olson, calling in those at the front of the line as tickets were released, sometimes with as little as five minutes to curtain call, and leaving it up to those in line to determine who was allowed to go next.

Olson had retained her number one seat for days, holding out for the “perfect seat” at the optimal show, allowing others to go before her. Just after 7 p.m. on Thursday, she scored big—picking up a front row seat left unclaimed by a lottery winner for a cool $199—the exact ticket she had been dreaming of—and got to witness Miranda live in the role he created. Upon leaving the box office, ticket in-hand, she let go tears and screams of joy, as fellow campers hugged her.

Elam got in too, scoring a premium, third row seat at the same show for $549—which she said was “worth it, absolutely.”

Speaking after the show, she said she thought she had died and gone to heaven: “The show was even more amazing that the soundtrack I’ve been listening to everyday for three months. There’s truly something about being in the room where it happens that changes you. This is a piece of history, and I will never forget [that] night.”

Cue the #Hamilbragging from here on out, because Hamilton tickets are sold out through January 2017.