Stories from the Line: Waiting for Free Shakespeare
“Part of the fun for me is just waiting in line, to be honest.” –Bernard Connaughton, Regular Line Waiter at Free Shakespeare in the Park
Armed with recorders, cameras, and bottled water, volunteer interviewers from the NYPL Community Oral History Project went on tour this month to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park to talk to people in line for The Public Theater’s annual Free Shakespeare in the Park. As regulars will tell you, waiting in line at the Delacorte is a truly unique city experience.
Ciara Murphy, Strategy and Planning Manager at The Public Theater says, “Over the last 50 years, over 5 million people from all over the world have watched stories unfold on the Delacorte stage in Central Park as part of Shakespeare in the Park. With the aid of the New York Public Library, we are delighted to now include our audience members’ stories in the ongoing legacy of Shakespeare in the Park.”
This year’s performance of Troilus and Cressida brought line waiters from around the world and longtime New Yorkers. Alina Kutyeva, a theater academy student from St. Petersburg, Russia and Laura Tutty, a steward at London’s Globe Theater, were two examples of line newcomers.
Kari Olson remembers her first time waiting in line for Romeo and Juliet with her then 13-year-old daughter several years: “We brought sleeping bags and it was like we were camping out in the wilderness for 7 hours. There’s a feeling of mystery in being at the park so early sitting in the dark. Sitting outside with all these other people for so many hours [is] magical.”
Then, there were Free Shakespeare regulars like Bernard Connaughton who remembers seeing Denzel Washington in Richard III and Jo Marcus who has been following Free Shakespeare since the 1970s. Jay Diehl has developed a now annual line waiting routine “twice a summer, every summer” he begins waiting in line at 7:00am.
Volunteer oral history interviewers received two free tickets to Troilus and Cressida and will remember their summer 2016 Shakespeare experience as being deeply connected to the line. Interviewer Ian Gould says, “Conducting these interviews was a fascinating experience. Being able to listen to not only an amazing variety of stories but also to the incredible diversity in the way stories are told - the words people choose, the pauses, the attempt to find the exact turn of phrase to communicate a feeling - was enthralling.”
Listen to the 32 interviews collected at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park: