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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The waiting game

<w long would you wait in line for a ticket to a show by your favorite band? For an autograph? For a ticket to a sold-out play? Over the past few weeks, I have done my fair share of waiting in lines, whether for the train or for a sandwich. Nothing, however, could prepare me for the waits I’ve had to endure for two of the most popular shows in London. No, not “Legally Blonde: the Musical” or “Peter Pan” (starring David Hasselhoff), but Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “King Lear.”

A few theaters with in-demand plays reserve ten tickets at their box office to be sold the day of the show as soon as the box office opens. Queues (a fancy British word that is now part of my permanent vocabulary) for these shows begin hours before the box office opens, and people crazy enough to stand outside in the morning (read: us) are rewarded with a ticket to the show that night. Typically, a good play has queues that begin at 5 or 6 in the morning.

When I went to see “Twelfth Night” two weeks ago, it had only recently started its run at the National Theatre, so reviews of the production were nonexistent. We had nothing to gauge its popularity other than the fact that it sold out for two months straight. This, in our eyes, was the surefire sign of a worthwhile play.

We waited for over three hours on a cold London morning to get tickets to what turned out to be a mediocre production. We found out the hard way that its popularity was due to its director and its star (a famous father-daughter combination, similar to Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola), not the quality of the production. Yet despite the clear signs of nepotism, “Twelfth Night” sells out night after night. Lesson learned.

“King Lear,” on the other hand, was worth every second of the four-plus-hour wait. They said I was crazy, but I again woke up early on a Friday morning to queue. I was third in line, behind a girl who queued at 5 and a man who had been there since 1 a.m. In his infinite wisdom, he decided that it wasn’t worthwhile to go home after a night out only to return a few hours later to queue. This is more the exception than the rule, but it was nonetheless startling. That morning turned out to be bitingly cold and windy, and it took a fair bit of mental toughness to stick it out (along with some wool socks and a blanket), but I’m glad that I did. “Lear” was worth every second of the wait, and some students in our group who waited even longer than I did said they’d do it all over again.

To get over the monotony of physically standing in one place for ungodly amounts of time, I’ve done my share of observing and analyzing. As an English major, it is only natural. What surprised me most was that both these lines were entirely self-regulated. The responsibility of lining up in a civil manner was placed on us rather than on any authority figure.

In the queue for “Twelfth Night,” a man in front of us who had been waiting there for four hours allowed his friend, who showed up ten minutes before the box office opened, to join him in the line to buy a ticket, thus cutting over 50 people behind him. Fortunately, there were enough observant people in the queue to tell this man, in so many words, that he did not belong at the front of the line. And he actually listened! Given the images that we see all the time of Black Friday shopping gone horribly wrong, I was glad to see a queue that operated on the honor code.

If I had to finish by offering up some vague musings about queues, I’d say we’re always waiting for the next “thing.” The next big invention, the next movie, the next relationship. And I’d say it’s how you fill that space in between that makes all the difference. Would you spend it alone? With friends? With strangers?

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