It all started in 10th grade on the dark wood fold-down seats of my high school auditorium. The lights dimmed. I sat there landlocked as a dozen of my best, best friends, all Jewish, appeared on stage in full habits as nuns in The Sound of Music.
I’d appeared in my elementary school productions of Oklahoma and The King and I, but this was authentic theater with a somewhat in-tune orchestra — not an upright piano and a tape recorder. This production had costumes made not of paper bags and aprons — but real polyester. I was a theater-goer.
I continued loving theater – Broadway Theater — throughout my young adulthood, easily seeing shows as they stopped in Philadelphia on their way in or out of New York. It became even easier when I lived in North Jersey as a yuppie.
It never occurred to me that it might one day be difficult to see a Broadway show until I lived in Cleveland. Everything about life is more difficult in Cleveland — and for my young family’s ten month stint there I’m not sure we ventured out for more than Barney on Ice. The theater was even more of problem when I lived in Tucson because the smaller the city the more gargantuan the feat to secure theater tickets. Whatever show is in town is, really, the only show in town – and all the good seats are gone before the tickets go “on sale to the public.”
When I moved to Chicago – and they touted Broadway in Chicago – I figured I was in luck and in many cases I have been, seeing many shows in the ten years I’ve lived here.
But divorce takes a toll on theater going. The price is prohibitive – and the whole idea of going to the theater alone or finding someone who wants to see the show I want to see when I want to see it is exasperating. Theater-going should not be mentally exhausting – this is one thing I know for sure.
While my enthusiasm for theater never waned, my attendance was recently at an all-time low.
Imagine my excitement when I received a group email offering tickets to Avenue Q already purchased by someone I know. She has done that “buy a block of tickets” thing we all say we’re going to do. She had twenty tickets available, first come, first served.
I’d just been talking to a girlfriend about Avenue Q – she saw it in New York and wanted to see it again when it swung through Chicago. Her sister wanted to see it too. We were set. When the show came the three of us would go. And then, as if by magic, this ticket opportunity landed in our collective email boxes – it was something akin to luck.
My friend emailed The Ticket Lady on our behalf – staking our claim on three of the twenty tickets and recounted the chain of events.
The Ticket Lady called her to confirm.
“You want three tickets?” The Ticket Lady asked.
“Yes,” my friend said, “me, Amy and my sister. ”
“Oh,” said The Ticket Lady. “I thought you would bring your husband.”
“He doesn’t want to go,” my friend said. “But my sister is buying a ticket.”
The Ticket Lady hemmed and hawed. "Right-EO," she said. "But then there’s that fourth ticket."
“You didn’t say the twenty tickets had to be bought in pairs,” my friend replied.
“Well, I just assumed.”
“Um, Ticket Lady,” my friend said. “If you wanted the tickets purchased in pairs, or wanted it to be a couples’ night, why did you send the email to Amy?”
My friend hesitated as she repeated this part of the story to me. Being single in a very married suburb makes you different. That didn’t mean she wanted to say it out loud, but she did.
She said, “I thought her boyfriend might be in town.”
“Boyfriend?” I said. “Does she know something I don’t?”
I was devastated at my lapse in judgment, thinking I was on that ticket list – unlike so many of the lists from which I’d been deleted since my divorce seven years ago.
As my friend continued recounting this story her voice took on the familiar drone of a Charlie Brown adult. In my mind I wandered back to the time I was a couple and admitted to myself that in many ways it’s easier — even when it’s miserable.
My friend spent the months preceding show time peddling that fourth ticket to keep the Ticket Lady off our – or my — back. I spent my time jumpstarting a “Single People Like Theater Too” campaign, complete with buttons and bumper stickers. I even priced megaphones on Ebay. Well, I thought about it.
I understand all too well that like the biblical animals heading for the ark, suburbanites travel in pairs – but Noah had that whole repopulate the world thing going on. And while theaters are dark places, they are hardly romantic. Many of my friends barely talk to their husbands let alone want to make out in Row K. Worse than anything, my love of theater was tainted by this woman’s idea of who should see this show with her tickets. I paid almost $100 for one ticket — and even with that I was only truly welcome if I arrived in tandem.
I can clap as loud as two people, I thought.
On show night, my friend and I and her two sisters had an extravagant Italian dinner without the the eight couples who were dining somewhere else — no doubt sitting boy/girl/boy/girl– probably with place cards.
When we arrived at the theater I close-mouthed smiled at the Ticket Lady. She waved enthusiastically with teeth showing and eyebrows raised. She gave me a thumbs-up as if she was so glad to see me there, me — the one-ticket wonder.
I’ve never gotten another one of her emails.
She writes her own script and sets the ticket prices high for admittance to her personal dress circle. And while most of my friendships flourish in many ways with phone calls and lunches, birthday celebrations, private jokes and conversations in confidence, even those appalled by the dimly lit stage from which Ticket Woman viewed the world – whose mouths dropped open at the mere mention of me not being included because of my propensity to need one seat instead of two, still exit stage left when I ask if anyone wants to see Jersey Boys.
They’ve all seen it.
Undoubtedly, in twos.
But then one day a friend mentioned my theater debacle. “I’d love to go out and not worry about anyone but myself,” she said. “or always have to be part of a group that expects things a certain way.” And then she whispered: “ Sometimes I wish I was you.”
She lifted my chin off the floor and handed it back to me.
“You might not get invited as much as you’d like. I’m guilty of that too. I think in pairs. but your friends like you because you’re you – not because of who you’re with or married to or what you have.”
I’m quite sure with that backstage pass my friend wished she was drinking something other than a mocha latte.
Irrevocable changes to my personal script altered everyone’s perception of the parts I could play when I stepped out on life’s stage – even mine – but it never occurred to me that my current role anyone else really wanted.
Did they close their eyes and imagine they were single, the way I have wished I was Freulien Maria, Mary Poppins, Elphaba or Christine? Are they longing for a curtain call while I am solidly into my second act?
Perhaps I have the best seat in the house after all.