GOING TO THE THEATER AT AGE 91 (& 1/2)
When I read that the musical “My Fair Lady” would be having a revival at Lincoln Center this summer, I was thrilled. I had seen the original production with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison back in the late 1950s and had listened to the recording multiple times. It’s my favorite musical, with its joyous songs and clever dialog. Now I wanted my granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris to have the same experience I had so many years ago. When I told them I wanted to take them, they didn’t seem all that enthusiastic; of course, they had seen and enjoyed the movie with Audrey Hepburn.
I planned to get tickets, but the time went by, and I sort of forgot about it until one Thursday I read that the opening was that very night. It was now late, but I thought I’d better buy the tickets before the reviews came out in the morning; I was sure that it would be a big hit, because how can you miss with “My Fair Lady?” So I immediately went to my computer. I had never ordered tickets online and thought all the options that appeared on my screen were from the box office; little did I know. I saw there were tickets available in the loge. The least expensive seats were, I think, $210 but I wanted to be closer to the stage; I opted for the $240 ones. Next I learned I was ordering from a ticket agency and not from the box office, so, of course, that meant a fee. By now the price was up to $800 for the three tickets. My stomach began churning; never had I paid so much for tickets, but that was not the end. The agency recommended I buy insurance in case anything were to happen to preclude our going which at my age was very possible; the price shot up to $910. By now it was almost midnight, and even though my brain was saying What Are You Doing? I thought I can’t go through this again trying to order from the box office, providing I could even find such a listing. I entered my Visa and the deed was done! Then, another surprise; thinking the loge is a box seat, I was pleased, having forgotten that the Vivian Beaumont Theater was built in the 20th century and not in the 19th when box seats were customary. When I looked at the seating chart, I saw that the seats, alas, were rather far back. I went to bed mentally exhausted.
The next day I felt guilty thinking that here my children are supplementing my income, and I’m spending $900 on theater tickets. I called my daughter Ingrid and confessed what I had done. But instead of admonishing me, she laughed, pointing out that my cousin Anne had worked for many years as a bank teller to leave me money in her will which I then spent in one fell swoop on theater tickets. I assuaged my conscience by deciding it was her money I was using, and remembering how much she loved going to the theater when she used to come to visit me in New York.
When I told Sarah and Chris how much I had spent, I thought they’d be astonished. They didn’t bat an eyelash. I found out why; they had paid the same amount for tickets for the three of us to see “Hamilton,” and insurance was not included.
The day finally arrived for us to go to “My Fair Lady.” Chris’ mother, who was visiting from D.C., joined us. She was fortunate to get a seat in the loge also, although further back. Sarah came to pick me up and we arrived at Lincoln Center, where more surprises were in store for me! The elevator deposited us only to the landing overlooking the lobby and orchestra below. There was no elevator to the loge but only a long staircase leading up to that level. Also no bathroom! I watched the stream of people mounting the stairs, including one white haired man straining to make it up. No way can I manage all those stairs! When Sarah enquired, she was told that I was the fourth person having the same problem; they would try to seat me in the orchestra but wouldn’t know until just before the show started if any seats were available. Suddenly I became determined, so holding on to the right bannister with both hands, I pulled myself upward step by step, stopping every few steps to catch my breath (congestive heart failure). I was half way up when an employee called from below that he could give us two seats in the orchestra. Since I was in the middle of the staircase, I decided to keep going if I could. A kind theatergoer carried up my walker. By now Chris and his mother had arrived, and with him in front of me holding my left arm and my right hand on the bannister and with Sarah protecting my rear, I finally arrived to the top of the loge level! I had made it! However, when we got to our aisle, the usher said our seats were in the first row which meant I had to walk down a steep staircase to get to my seat. Once again with Chris walking backwards while holding onto my left arm and my right hand on railing and Sarah behind, they got me down the steep incline and deposited me in my seat. Sarah hugged me, lovingly delighted that we had made it! I felt triumphant, as if I had climbed a mini Mt. Everest! And it turned out that the seats were great; the loge similar to a first balcony but lower and closer to the stage.
Intermission arrived, and, of course, I had to go to the ladies’ room. As I was making it back up the stairs with my grandchildren in tow, or rather, being towed by them, an older woman in an upper row pleaded with me not to tumble backwards, covering her eyes because she couldn’t look. I finally made it, only to discover that, despite the many seats in the loge, there were only two stalls and a long line. I did what I had never done before; I went with my walker almost to the front of the long line and asked a friendly looking middle-aged woman if I could go in front of her. She graciously said yes, thank goodness. The warning bell sounded when I exited and I saw many of the women had left the line without relief because intermission was over. Once again, there were Chris and Sarah to the rescue. And “My Fair Lady” was terrific, the performers, the sets, and those glorious songs.
Two weeks later, it was “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers’ Theater. Sarah and her Chris had purchased the tickets for the three of us several months before, because it’s so hard to get them. As it turned out, my son (named Chris also) and my daughter-in-law Keiko decided to visit New York, and were arriving form Japan the same day as the performance. When Sarah and her Chris went to purchase tickets for Big Chris and Keiko a few days before the performance, the only available tickets were for box seats at $400! When Keiko heard how pricey they were she refused to go, because she would feel guilty spending that amount of money. My son had no such qualms, even though he said he’d probably sleep through most of the performance due to jet lag.
So there I was, off to the theater again. At least this time we were going to sit in the orchestra, so I wouldn’t have to climb any stairs. Not so fast! When we entered the theater I saw, to my dismay, that the first ten or so rows were below us and the rest above in graduated rows, reached only by climbing a long, steep staircase. “I can’t believe it;” I exclaimed. “ Its a replay of “My Fair Lady!” As I watched, our usher kept walking up and up until almost the last row to show us where our seats were. There was not even a railing to hold onto. When I said I couldn’t make it, the usher got the manager who asked me if I could use the bannister on the right side of the theater, and then walk across an aisle of seats to the middle section. When I saw the maneuvering needed to get me to my seat, even though this time I had two Chrises to hold onto me, I knew I could never get to the ladies’ room during intermission. Luckily, having learned my lesson two weeks ago, I abstained from all fluids four hours before the show.
Even though we were quite far up, the theater is laid out so that each row was elevated, and so there were no sight lines obstructed by heads and we actually were closer to the stage than when in the Vivian Beaumont loge. As for the musical, I couldn’t understand much of what the performers were singing in the first act because of so many voices and the loud beat of the music, but I could get the gist of what was happening thanks to having read the synopsis on Google. I thought it would be all rap music, but there were a number of genres, including ballads in the second act, which I could understand. The production and energy of the performers, and weaving the history of the period through singing only were amazing! Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius!
So I had a terrific time going to the theater this summer, but I am stunned at the lack of accessibility for the elderly and handicapped. Even though I felt triumphant at having met the challenges, let’s face it, I could never have succeeded without having the help of not one, but two and three family members. Doesn’t the theater world know that the elderly population keeps on growing and that often they are the ones who can afford the ridiculously expensive tickets? At the two theaters, none of the other patrons who were using canes or walkers were alone. None of us could ever go alone. We all needed help, and were reduced to rather undignified gymnastics to gain our seats. This just is not right. I think it’s past time for the theaters to deal with these problems, so that even if we’re 91 (& 1/2) we can still experience the pleasures of live theater.