Tag Archives: theater

How is it mid-November already?

17 Nov

Is it just me, or does the time between the end of August and Thanksgiving go by in about 10 minutes? I swear we were just getting back from our summer holiday, and now I’m looking at the massive amount of Christmas presents I’ve purchased over the past few weeks and am wondering how I’m going to fit them all in my suitcase when I head back to the U.S. on Tuesday. I’m seriously contemplating not packing any clothing — I have a closet full of sweaters at my parents’, and we already have plans to hit the outlet mall on Black Friday. The only thing I need to bring is running clothes for the Thanksgiving 10K. I keep checking the Thanksgiving Day forecast for Cincinnati hoping for it to warm up. It has changed from snow to rain to sun, so we’re headed in the right direction, but my body is definitely not used to running in freezing temperatures. A PR would be nice, but I’m not sure I’ve trained enough for one, so I may have to settle with just finishing.

I was hoping to fit in one more West End show before my trip back, but I couldn’t manage to score lottery tickets to see Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones) in Venus in Fur and didn’t want to see it badly enough to queue for day seats. I only managed 3 day seat queues this year, which is impressive considering I saw 16 shows. I finally got out of the 9 shows a year slump! 16 is a nice even number to go out on, and is setting the bar high for next year. And while I may be done with London shows for 2017, I’m not done with theatre for the year — my friend and I got tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago next month! We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (and believe me, at the insane ticket price and the non-stop “OMG HAMILTON!!” on social media, my expectations are sky high).

As per tradition, I walked around Oxford Street yesterday to take in all the Christmas lights. It’s the same display they had last year (and possibly every year), which is beautiful, but like most things in life, would be even more beautiful if there weren’t so many people everywhere. I was particularly intrigued by the conversation this couple walking next to me was having.

“Look how impressive this is now, just imagine how it will look once they turn the lights on!” the guy said to his girlfriend.

I did not take any photos of the Oxford Street lights, so I’ll post one from Time Out.

oxford st lights

That’s what the street looked like. As the American saying goes, “It was lit up like the 4th of July.” From the stores to the hanging bulbs above the street, the whole area was awash in light. No bulb remained unlit.

What was he talking about?!

He kept repeating it too. “It’s gonna look so cool with all the lights on!”

“All the lights are on, you nitwit!” I wanted to shout.

Perhaps he was confusing Oxford Street with Regent Street. Oxford Street turned their lights on on November 7, while Regent Street waited until yesterday. I walked down Regent Street in the early evening yesterday and the lights weren’t on yet, and it was very obvious to tell. I’m not sure what additional lights he was hoping would be turned on on Oxford Street. He certainly needed to turn on the light in his head.


Another day seat queue character

13 Oct

ink play londonOf the record-breaking(!) 14 shows I’ve seen in London this year, I surprisingly only got day seats for 2 of them. So I was due for a good queue.

I decided to see Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper, because I feel like I don’t know enough about the London newspaper scene, and it was a transfer from the Almeida Theatre, and every Almeida West End transfer I’ve seen has been nothing short of phenomenal.

The play has been getting rave reviews, but it doesn’t seem to be extraordinarily popular, so I arrived at the theatre 30 minutes before the box office opened. There were only a handful of people queuing. I proceeded to kill time on my phone until the character arrived. Every day seat queue seems to have a character.

This one was a full-blooded New Yorker who would have been a prime contestant on a Buzzfeed “Homeless Man or Aging Hippie?” quiz. He wore a tie-dye Bob Dylan T-shirt, an “Impeach Trump” button on his hat, had a scraggly beard and walked with a cane. And he was a talker, as only Americans can be. Every once in a while queuers will strike up conversation, but most keep to their phones, books, magazines, or even use their laptop whilst standing up like the guy in front of me. But this character wanted to talk and he didn’t particularly care who wanted to listen. The Australian woman in front of him wasn’t biting, so he tried the man next to me. He was properly British, giving polite responses and appeasing the character, but I could tell he’d much rather be reading the magazine in his hand.

“So how does this work?” the character asked to no one in particular. I wanted to say, “What do you mean how does this work? Are you so New York that you just saw a line of people and decided you must queue?” (Wait, New Yorkers don’t say “queue” or even “wait in line.” They wait “on line.” And yes, that scene about New Yorkers waiting on line from The Gilmore Girls reboot is still fresh in my mind.) He lamented about how he must have an aisle seat, but doesn’t want to spend too much money. Eventually I couldn’t handle it anymore and had to jump in.

“Front row day seats are £15,” I said. And just like that I was roped in. Luckily the box office doors had just opened, but there was only one window and each transaction seemed to last 5 minutes, so I had plenty of time to hear about why I absolutely must see Bob Dylan live, what it was like to see Anthony Hopkins play King Leer at the National Theatre back in 1986, and how badly the Bengals are playing this year. By the time we got to U.S. politics, it was my turn to buy my ticket.

“See you later, Cincinnati!” the character called out after me when I left. I smiled, thinking I would never see the guy again, but sure enough there he was on the aisle, 3 seats away from me at the matinee. Though he didn’t seem to recognize me with makeup on and my hair down as I crawled over him to get to my seat, so the poor English guy next to him had to hear all about his thoughts on how Rupert Murdoch ruined the New York Post.

At the interval I jumped up to use the ladies room, but because I was sitting front row center and there was little leg room, I wasn’t able to bolt there first like I normally do. So I had to queue. There were only 4 stalls, so naturally it was a long queue. In fact, it somehow became two queues, as women poured in from both sides. An outspoken American (of course!) devised a plan.

“We will merge just like we’re on the highway,” she announced. “One person from this line, then one person from your line.” Everyone within earshot agreed, and for a while the merging technique worked surprisingly well. Until a lady from the other queue got talking with her back to us, and so no one from her queue was moving, so my queue slowly became the main queue. An American woman 5 people behind me apparently did not see this occur, and jumped in front of the woman behind me.

“I’m sorry, what are you doing?” the British woman behind me asked her politely.

“We’re merging, isn’t that what we’re doing?” The American woman said, rather hostilely.

“Yes, we were, but you were behind me. We’ve all been waiting much longer than you have.” She smiled and continued to be incredibly polite. The American woman realized her mistake, but in typical American fashion, was not about to admit it. She jumped back a few people in the queue.

“Is this OK?” she said with an attitude. The British lady smiled again. “As long as you’re behind me.”

“Whatever” the American woman muttered under her breath.

It would be hard to make up a more stereotypical exchange between the two cultures if I tried!

Besides that little bathroom kerfuffle, the show was excellent. My seat was so good I had fake money thrown at me (of course I saved one of the notes!) and was even splattered a bit with ink. (It was only when I got home that I realized it was on my face. Good thing I was wearing dark colors!) The world of London newspapers during the 1960s is a fascinating one, but watching the show made me glad I’m no longer in that industry.

Breaking records and winning the Friday Forty

3 Jul

It’s funny how people always say “I never win anything.” Because none of us win anything, until of course we do, and then we can never say “I never win anything,” because we have won something, but “I only win things occasionally” just doesn’t sound as good.

When it comes to the theatre ticket lottery, I only win occasionally. When TodayTix first launched I won almost every lottery I entered, but that was likely because there were fewer names in the pot. When it first launched I entered the Book of Mormon in-person ticket lottery 10 times and never got lucky. I’ve entered the Dream Girls, Aladdin, and Harry Potter lotteries more times than I can count and I never won. Until now.

From the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child website:
Every Friday at 1pm we release 40 tickets for every performance the following week, for some of the very best seats in the theatre, at an amazingly low price. These tickets are known as ‘The Friday Forty’.

I have a weekly reminder on my phone to apply for the Friday Forty. Not winning has become such a habit that I almost didn’t enter last week — what’s the point? I thought. But since I was home I clicked on the “Buy tickets” button when it appeared promptly at 1pm, then walked away to get dressed for my run. When I came back I noticed the bar with the little wizard at the bottom of the screen was actually moving — I don’t remember it ever doing that before. Then suddenly I was in — it was asking me which dates I wanted to book! I got front row centre tickets for Wednesday’s shows for £20 each. Unbelievable! Wednesday is going to be a long day of theatre — part I at 2pm then part II at 7:30pm. But I’m sure it will be worth it!

friday forty tickets

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be my 52nd and 53rd shows in London (it counts as two, right?). That’s right, friends, I did it — I hit 50 shows, and of course I did it with Bat Out Of Hell the Musical. Dare I say it was even more amazing the second time around? Partly because Andrew, the main Strat actor, was born to play the role, and partly because I had a cheeky pre-show glass of wine. (That sounded really British, didn’t it?). Then the day after I saw Bat, I saw Rotterdam, an emotional play that was absolutely nothing like Bat and actually made me a little depressed for the rest of the day, but it was an incredibly moving show about relationships and the struggle of being trans. Rotterdam was my 10th show of the year, which means I finally broke my 9 shows a year record! And it’s only July! I hate the central London traffic and crowds so, so much, but being able to witness world-class theatre regularly makes it all worth it.

The smell of wine and Oresteia

22 Oct

I walked into my kitchen tonight and it smelled like wine. This was alarming for two reasons: 1. I don’t have any wine in my kitchen, and 2. I had just gotten back from an outstanding performance of Oresteia, where wine was used throughout and the girl next to me was constantly sipping a glass, so it felt like 4-D smell-o-vision, and now it had somehow followed me back to my kitchen.

oresteia londonOresteia was my 32nd London show (9th this year). It was actually not on my radar until I was queuing for Photograph 51 a few weeks ago and a wise promoter came by and handed out flyers for it, noting that they still had tickets available. This was one of those rare, rare occasions where being handed a flyer on the street actually lead to a purchase. I was intrigued by the photos and reviews of the show, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime piece of theatre” and “the best show of the year.” Despite studying Latin, ancient Greek and the classics for many years, I’m not strongly drawn to ancient theatre. It always seemed — dare I say — boring. But Oresteia was thoroughly modernized and boy, oh boy was it good. All three and a half hours of it. And the best part was I scored a £15 ticket on LastMinute.com the night before, which meant I did not have to wake up early to queue for a day seat (which would have cost me twice as much, not to mention less sleep). Normally I shy away from online theatre ticket sales because the booking fees are outrageous and the box office is almost always cheaper, but not this time. I’ll have to keep you in mind for next time, LastMinute.com.

Anyway — the wine smell. Once I determined it was not the wrath of Clytemnestra or Orestes clinging to my being, I sniffed around for the culprit. My nose drew me to the fruit bowl. The bananas were giving off a slight “why are you not eating us, we’re gonna be super brown soon” scent, but that wasn’t it. I picked up the pineapple — the pineapple I bought at Aldi on Monday and meant to put in the fridge the next day. There was a white fuzzy mold on the bottom and it was spreading around the skin. In a last ditch attempt to rescue the fruit, I cut it open and ate a small slice. It tasted like wine. I don’t think I’ve ever had pineapple wine (does it exist?) and if I did, I would probably like it. But I did not like this pineapple. I promptly spit it out and reluctantly threw an entire once-good fruit in the garbage. What a waste. Although after watching a father murder his daughter, a wife murder her husband, and a son murder his mother, I guess losing a pineapple doesn’t seem too bad.

Let the Right One Queue

1 Jun

Just for kicks, I made a list of every theatre production I’ve seen in London so far:

One Man Two Guvnors (starring James Corden)*
Sunshine Boys (starring Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths)*
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time*
A Chorus of Disapproval (starring Rob Brydon)*
Scenes from an Execution (starring Fiona Shaw)*

Old Times (starring Kristin Scott Thomas)*
Quartermaine’s Terms (starring Rowan Atkinson/Mr. Bean)
Jersey Boys
The Tempest (at The Globe)
The Taming of the Shrew (at The Globe)
Viva Forever*

The Book of Mormon
Let the Right One In*

Of those 15 shows, I got up early to queue for day seats for nine of them (indicated by an asterisk). 2013 was a good theatre year for me, so obviously I have some catching up to do this year. Whenever my alarm goes off on day seat queue day I question why I do it, and then when my butt is sitting in the front row of a world class production that cost me less than a cinema ticket, I remember, and start planning the next quest.

Yesterday I took the Tube bright and early to queue for Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury. It got good reviews, and as you can see above, I enjoy watching well-known screen actors on the stage. I simply knew of “that lady from ‘Murder She Wrote’,” but I clearly underestimated others’ devotion to her. The people at the front of the queue had been there since 6 a.m. — four hours before the box office opened. Another woman flew in from Spain just for the performance. I began to realize for the first time in my day seat queuing history I may not get tickets. As I waited I surveyed my options. I had planned a fun show and dinner day with a friend and was looking forward to it. I also got up early and came down to the West End. Thus, I was determined to get tickets to something. I pulled up my list of shows I want to see (yes, I have a running list), and noticed the Apollo Theatre (the one whose ceiling collapsed last year), playing Let the Right One In, was just next door. That would be my plan B. Finally the box office opened and the queue slowly snaked inside. When there were only four people ahead of me I heard the box office person say the only seats left were £64 or they had standing tickets for £10. I hated that I wasted an hour of my life in that queue, but I also was not going to spend £64 or stand for two and a half hours (and it’s a good thing too, because SPOILER ALERT I massively wipe out again on my run home from the box office.) So I made the tough decision to abandon my spot in the queue and scurried over to the Apollo, praying they didn’t have a queue of their own.

I walked right in and got two front row center seats for the matinee performance. Could not have been easier. I excitedly texted my friend our change of plans, then started to jog back home to shower and eat lunch before coming back out for the show. I made it all of five minutes before it happened — another massive wipe out. This one may have been even more majestic than my last. I could feel it happening and desperately tried to correct myself, but I was stumbling forward with too much momentum.

scooby running

Suddenly I was on my stomach in the middle of an intersection, iPhone and water bottle flung five feet away. I think I audibly muttered “Crap! Again?!” as passersby averted eye contact (as you do in the UK). I stood up to assess the damage. Luckily I was wearing long pants so there was no visible blood. I once again managed to wipe out in the most elaborate way possible with minimal injury. As much as I enjoy running with my phone in one hand, water in the other, I’m starting to think it’s throwing off my balance, so I may have to consider using an arm or waist band. I may also need to learn how to do the worm:

running fall worm

Wipe outs aside, Let the Right One In was an exquisite bit of theatre down to every last drop of fake blood and was worth spending an hour in the wrong queue. I came home and immediately watched the Swedish film on Netflix, also beautifully haunting, and I’m planning to watch the US version, “Let Me In,” tonight. Then I think I’ll be done with child vampires for a while.

The British equivalent of Black Friday: queuing for theatre day seats

22 Feb

I have a somewhat embarrassing confession — I’ve been in London over a year now and I have yet to see a West End show. That’s embarrassing to me because I really like theatre — I saw “Wicked” twice in Chicago and had season tickets to Broadway in Cincinnati. But sometimes living in London compared to just visiting for a week is a problem — you start putting things on the “Things To Do Eventually” list and then you never actually do them. At least not for awhile. When my Anglophile friend from Chicago visited me in September she told me about the play “One Man, Two Guvnors” starring James Corden. She had also just gotten me into the show “Gavin and Stacey,” created by and starring James Corden. The play got rave reviews but I promptly forgot about it. Until this week, when Stephen left on a business trip and I decided I should do more than sit around and watch TV and bury myself in work. I live in London and it’s high time I start experiencing it. So I looked up the play only to find Corden is leaving the role on Feb. 25 and every show is completely sold out. But there was a glimmer of hope — this crazy phenomenon known as Day Seats, in which theatres sell off the front row and cancelled tickets to a show the morning of. It would be my only chance of seeing my favorite British actor on the stage (yes, apparently I have a favorite (favourite?) British actor now), so I decided to go for it. Here’s the story in unnecessarily detailed and long narrative form.

This theatre bug hit me last week, but after careful consideration of my work schedule and the play schedule, I decided Wednesday would be the day to go. There are two performances on Wednesdays, so I would double my chance of getting tickets. All week I anxiously anticipated Wednesday. I obsessively checked the website, read reviews, I even picked up the phone to call the box office to ask them how many day seats they have and what time people start to queue, but the box office doesn’t have a phone number. Plus, what fun would waking up early to queue be if I had all that information?

The big day finally arrived this morning and it felt like Black Friday. I was excited, but tired and found myself asking if I really wanted to do this — it would be so easy to go back to sleep and work and watch TV all day like any other day. But I was determined to do this — for the experience and the blog post that would surely come out of it. So at 8:40 a.m. I left my flat, five minutes earlier than expected, and earlier than I believe I’ve ever walked down the High Street. (I know, I know, 8:40 is only early to someone who works from home on her own schedule). I passed dozens of kids scootering to school wearing uniforms reminiscent of Madeline, with their matching scarves, coats and hats. I even passed my old buddy Guinness Guy, so named because he drunkedly wanders the neighborhood, often carrying a can of Guinness, and talks to anyone who passes by him, often with a funny comment about the weather (“It’s a balmy 5 today, I’m gonna go sunbathing!”) or a catcall. I have no idea where he lives or why he wanders the neighborhood drinking only Guinness, but that’s beside the point. I got on the Tube and got off at Charring Cross station, headed towards the Adelphi Theatre. I couldn’t stop the questions from popping up in my head — “What if there are no more tickets? What if ‘completely sold out’ means ‘completely sold out?’ What if there’s a line around the block, should I still wait? Should I try to get tickets to another show? Will I even be able to find the theatre?”

That last one was easy to answer — I stepped out of the Tube station, looked down the street, and saw my buddy James Corden on a giant banner above the theatre. There was also a queue out front. At least the promise of tickets was still alive. I speedwalked from the station, maneuvering around every pedestrian as if they were a potential threat to my spot in line. Finally I had my spot in the queue, about 25 people back.

It was hard to capture the queue in a photo

It was 9:10 and the box office opened at 10 a.m. As I stood there contemplating how I was going to spend the next 50 minutes standing there in the cold, Crazy Guy approached.

“The queue doesn’t seem too bad,” he said with a slurred incomprehensible English accent. “I spoke with the girl at the front of the queue — she’s been here since 4 a.m.!” he nearly shouted.

“Wow!” I said, and the guy in front of me agreed. I asked them if they knew how many tickets were available. They didn’t.

I got out my iTouch and attempted to go through my Chinese flashcards, but Crazy Guy did not take the hint. He kept on talking. I understood about every fifth word he said, so I gave him the old smile and nod, coupled with the occasional “Really?” and “Wow.” He was reading a newspaper and talking about Adele. The queue starting filling in behind me and Crazy Guy starting chatting up the girl behind him. He asked her if she would hold his place while he ran to the cash machine because he didn’t have any money. She said that was fine. The group of women behind her laughed after he left. “He’s a smart guy — got his spot in the queue first, then goes to get the money!” I couldn’t help but wonder how “Can you hold my spot, I forgot to bring money” would fly on Black Friday at Wal-Mart. I think he would have been punched. He was gone for at least 20 minutes. I was starting to think he had stopped for a coffee, knowing full well his spot was safe. Maybe he wasn’t so crazy after all.

I overheard the woman behind me say they usually have 20 tickets per performance and this was her third time trying. “Oh wait, is it 20 per performance or 20 total between the two? I can’t remember. I just know I got here at 10 a.m. last time and I was way too late,” she said. I was getting nervous — there’s a big difference between 20 and 40 tickets, especially when there’s over 20 people queued in front of you and each person can buy 2 tickets. Maybe 8:40 wasn’t early enough after all.

Crazy Guy returned and told the girl behind me the entire story about how he lost his bank card. I heard her giving the same polite but please-stop-talking-to-me one-word answers I had.

At 10 a.m. on the dot they rose the gate of the theatre and we filed into the heated lobby. Crazy Guy was rambling on to no one in particular about all the shows he’s seen and what he was thinking about seeing tonight if he didn’t get a ticket. “I hear if you sit in the front three rows of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ you need an umbrella!” he said, laughing to himself. I have to give him credit — there was definitely something not right with the guy, but at least he spends all his time at the theatre.

The queue was moving impossibly slow, as each person had to show ID and fill out a detailed form. To prevent resale they hold the tickets until showtime when you must present your ID and receipt. I saw 4 a.m. Girl leave, ticket and pillow in hand. I wonder if this sign on the casino next door was directed at people like her:

“I got them! I got front row tickets to the show!” a woman shouted to someone on the phone. The anxiety was building as we collectively watched more and more people and tickets walk out the door. Less left for us. One of the box office guys stood up. “Ladies and gentleman, the evening performance is now sold out.” There was a collective grumble as many people got out of the line, including the man in front of me. I was hoping for a matinee ticket anyway, as I didn’t want to go home at 11 p.m. by myself. I moved up and started chatting to the couple in front of me. This was also their third attempt at getting tickets for this show.
“I think we’re further up than last time,” the wife ensured her husband. We were getting closer — there were only five people ahead of me now.
“I wish they would announce how many tickets are left,” I said. “There are people way back there who are probably wasting their time waiting.” The people in front of me agreed. The lady four people ahead tapped the woman buying her tickets. “Ask them how many are left,” she whispered. I heard the attendant say “3 or 4.” My heart sank. I was so close!
“What should we do if there is only one?” the husband in front of me asked.
“Are you alone?” his wife asked me. “Then it’d be your lucky day!” I smiled.
“Or we could flip for it!” the husband joked.
The lady in front of them approached the window. We were crossing our fingers — no “Sold out” announcement yet.
The couple in front of me were up and I couldn’t help feeling happy that they finally got theirs. I just hoped I could get mine. The husband turned around and looked at me with a smile, “You’re good!” he said. Victory!
It was finally my turn to approach the window. The front row day seats were long gone, but they must have had some cancellations in the upper circle — nosebleed seats, but cheaper than what I was expecting to pay, and most importantly, it was a ticket. I didn’t wait an hour in the cold for nothing. As I was getting out my money I felt a tap on my shoulder — it was the husband giving me a thumbs up as he and his wife left with their receipt. I smiled and gave a thumbs up back. As I left, glorious receipt in hand, I heard Crazy Guy at the window shouting and spelling his name as the woman asked for his ID. I prayed he wouldn’t be seated next to me.

Wow, this post turned out a lot longer than I had anticipated so I won’t go into a detailed review of the show. It was definitely worth the time and money. James Corden was brilliant, even more than expected. It was amazing to see him in action, even if it was from the upper circle. My seat was directly in the center, which was an added bonus. It was an old theatre and the seats were ridiculous close together. As I squeezed my way to my seat, I heard an “Oh, hi!” — it was the couple from the queue, they were seated right next to me. We exchanged pleasantries, agreeing that few people probably got tickets after us, then there was that awkward silence that happens when you have nothing else in common besides standing in the same queue for the same show and someone (*cough* me) is shy and bad at keeping conversations going.

So my first London theatre-going experience was a success. I finally had a real, true London experience, from the Black Friday-esque queue for tickets, to seeing a genuine British play with genuine British humour (OK, I’ll admit I didn’t get some of the cultural references and for the first minute of the play I feared it was going to be like this:

But the accents eventually grew on me, although I had to put a lot of effort into listening.

Now that I know about day tickets and matinees, I have no excuse for sitting around watching TV on a slow work day.