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For ‘Hercules’ Seats, Public Works Goes Digital

The time-honored line in Central Park was a reliable way to get tickets. The new lottery has less certainty but may be more equitable.

  • Published Aug. 26, 2019 Updated Aug. 28, 2019

They line up in droves in Central Park, bearing picnic blankets and lawn chairs and inflatable sofas. Before the crack of dawn, with books, snacks and (hopefully) some sunscreen, they stake out a spot in line. Then they sit. They wait.

With any luck, come high noon, they get a ticket.

Hours before every summer show, this has been the scene outside the Delacorte Theater, where New Yorkers trade a few extra hours of sleep for a shot at a free ticket to Shakespeare in the Park, or, in the last few years, the annual Public Works pageant. For patrons who show up year after year, rain or shine, the line-sitting is as much a tradition as the show itself.

But for the first time — with “Hercules,” this year’s Public Works production opening Aug. 31 — the Public has gone digital, doing away with the queue snaking around Central Park’s walkways.

A new advance digital lottery, open since mid-August and closing Wednesday, is the main pool for tickets to all seven performances. Entries can be submitted through the digital ticket platform TodayTix online or via its app, and those without internet access can mail in written requests. There are separate lotteries for seniors and those seeking A.D.A.-accessible seating.

One in-person option, a daily standby lottery, remains — but there’s never been a guarantee that standby tickets will be available.

Another choice, though hardly for everyone: donate $10,000 to the Public, which gets you two seats for “Hercules,” among other perks.

With the previous system, audience hopefuls could line up at one of the Public’s distribution sites — usually libraries or community centers — in the other boroughs, and there was an in-person lottery at the Public Theater downtown. The TodayTix lottery was an option then too, but on a daily basis for individual performances.

Tom McCann, a spokesman for the Public, said that changing the ticket process for the Public Works productions “has been in the works for a while now” as the program has grown, and that they will evaluate its success after “Hercules” closes.

Public Works, which has offered theater classes to local groups since 2013 in addition to its annual community-driven pageant, now partners with eight organizations in the five boroughs.

Most tickets go to Public Works’ community members and partners, Mr. McCann said in an email. The limited number of performances makes securing a seat even harder: “Hercules” runs for just one week, while the Shakespeare shows typically span several , and the added allure of a world premiere Disney production can only add to its popularity.

“We know that there are many fans of the Public Works annual productions who are not involved with the program, and we wanted to make sure that free tickets available to those fans are distributed fairly, safely, and in an easily accessible way,” Mr. McCann said.

Not everyone is physically able to sit in line outside for tickets and not everyone can take the day off work to wait in the park, said Emily Hammerman, a vice president at TodayTix.

“I think for ‘Hercules’ in particular, they’re expecting an outsize level of demand,” she said. “And so they want to double down on making digital access that didn’t weight in anyone’s favor based on how early they could get to the park or how many hours they could camp out for.”

In Central Park, if you showed up early enough — before 8 a.m. was a good bet — you’d be all but guaranteed a ticket. With the new lottery system, however — not including the $10,000 donation option — there’s no way for patrons to ensure they’ll have a spot at the theater.

“I’m definitely for that kind of concept, but I do like the in-person lottery to give the people who are really committed a chance to also get it,” said Ben Meyerson as he waited in line one morning last month for a ticket to Shakespeare in the Park’s “Coriolanus.” “I knew that if I got here at six o’clock, I was going to get tickets. So I would like if there was a more sure way.”

But Mr. Meyerson and some others waiting in line also appreciated what they see as an equitable move to make tickets more accessible.

“Someone who’s working year-round is not able to come out and wait for four hours or five hours in line,” said Craig Redmond Cilley, a teacher who has the summers off. He arrived around 7:30 a.m. with a book and an inflatable sofa. “I think there are pros and cons to it.”

For Shakespeare in the Park regulars, though, there’s something special about the line.

Eva Suarez remembers her parents telling stories about their summers, decades ago, waiting for tickets. In the past few years, she’s picked up some tales of her own: “One year I was waiting by myself, and the people next to me had a full-blown picnic party happening, and so they were just feeding me all morning.”

“I understand that they’re really trying to democratize how they get these tickets out there,” she added, “but I also think there’s something about the experience that to me is so New York.”

The time-honored line in Central Park was a reliable way to get tickets. The new lottery has less certainty but may be more equitable.

Take a look at the Hercules musical — even without winning a lottery ticket

Who put the “glad” in “gladiator”? For the past few weeks, the answer to that question has been New York City’s Public Theater, which is currently finishing up a limited run of a new stage musical based on Disney’s beloved Hercules film. The show only runs through Sept. 8, which means that tickets have been in high demand even with a free public lottery. Luckily, the production just released several videos giving a close look at the musical for anyone who didn’t win the lottery or doesn’t even live in New York.

The video above features a montage of scenes from the performances. Any self-respecting fan of Disney’s Hercules will surely recognize some of the visuals. There’s the Muses teasing Meg (Krysta Rodriguez) about being in love with Herc (Jelani Alladin)! There are the three Fates sharing one big eyeball among them! There’s Roger Bart, who originally provided Hercules’ singing voice in the movie, sporting a shock of blue hair as the underworld lord Hades. And, of course, running throughout is the iconic music by Alan Menken and David Zippel — though viewers won’t hear much of the five new songs they wrote for the production. Below, you can watch a behind-the-scenes video of the making of the musical featuring Menken singing “Go the Distance” at his piano.

As part of the Public Theater’s Public Works initiative, the cast is populated with New Yorkers from all across the city. So far, there aren’t any official plans to adapt the musical for Broadway. But as EW’s Jessica Derschowitz wrote in her B+ review, “it’s clear the appetite for it is there, and Disney Theatrical Productions has a solid, heartfelt blueprint for a show that could someday go that distance.”

New videos give inside looks at the 'Hercules' stage musical staring Roger Bart and Krysta Rodriguez, even for people who didn't win the lottery. ]]>