I come from a small suburb of San Diego where the biggest theatrical hit each year is the community theatre's production of Annie. Sure, the little orphan's rendition of "Tomorrow" sends dogs counties over into howling fits. Sure, Daddy Warbucks seems caught in a state of perpetual puberty--every year his voice cracks a little more, his patchy sprouting of facial hair grows a little more sporadic and awkward, and his baby fat cells seem to multiply voraciously...but there is something comfortable about going down to the old converted movie house, paying 10 bucks for a general admission ticket, and having my pick of a house that is, at best, two-thirds of the way full (counting small children, pets, the spirits of lost loved ones, and unborn fetuses).
That's why it is simultaneously heartwarming, odd, and even a little magical to see the popularity of The Arabian Nights in the wake of these troubled economic times. Not only did The Arabian Nights sell out completely nearly two weeks before the end of its run, but the fact that it is now completely sold out has only ignited people's desire to see the show. At the box office we field anywhere from 50 to 200 phone calls a day from people desperate to see the show. Not only do we get phone calls, but we have some particularly dedicated people who show up in person throughout the day to check in about tickets.
And while I sincerely wish that everybody who wanted to see the show could (because, well, it's a fantastic play), I can't help but smile inside at the extreme outpouring of support for Berkeley Rep, Mary Zimmerman, and good art. I feel lucky to be a part of a community that chooses to support the arts so avidly and gets so passionate about the opportunity to experience theatre.
There are some people who make dozens of phone calls a day on the off chance that somebody might have called in and donated back their tickets, and the crowds of theatregoing hopefuls outside our box office an hour before the show starts have grown so much that we had to make an impromptu Arabian Nights waiting line to keep fights from breaking out (ok, perhaps not fights, per se...more like very-tense-but-vaguely-polite disagreements). Megan Wygant of the marketing department even pointed out to me that there are currently 26 entries that come up on Craigslist when you search for Arabian Nights. Sorry, folks--all of the entries are from people asking to purchase tickets, not sell them. One guy even posted a request for an Arabian Nights "miracle" ticket.
If Arabian Nights were in high school, it would be, like, the totally popular girl who all the guys want to date and all the girls want to be friends with. Not the head cheerleader type who makes you feel bad about yourself and spreads nasty rumors about you, but the one who is so pretty and genuine that you would have to hate her if she weren't so darned nice. So: the polls are closed, the votes have been cast, and you the people have voted overwhelmingly to crown The Arabian Nights as homecoming queen of Berkeley Rep. May she continue to succeed as she moves forward with her life (on to Kansas City and Chicago).
When I lived in London, a few years ago, I once waited 2 hours in a stand-still line to get returned tickets to "The Producers" with Nathan Lane and Lee Evans. In the 5 years since; I've seen around 150-200 plays, musicals and operas but I’ve never seen a line like the one I stood in that night. Not for "Wicked" or "Jersey Boys" or even "Phantom of the Opera." At least, that was until last night when I saw a line of 20 people waiting for an unlikely miracle - tickets to be returned.
It makes me so happy - that people have been so excited to join us for this show reaffirms why I work in the theatre: to partake, to participate and to live. With all that is going on in the world, theatre is a safe-haven – a vehicle that transports us to another world… or to the other side of the world. Looking at our future I am hopeful that things will get better and that one day every show at theatre will be as popular, and as touching, as this one has been these last few weeks.
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