Hundreds line up for their shot at Philly ‘Hamilton’ tickets

Carolyn Brooks Rice cheers when her green and white wristband gets a favorable time slot in the rush to buy tickets to see

Carolyn Brooks Rice cheers when her green and white wristband gets a favorable time slot in the rush to buy tickets to see "Hamilton" in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

On Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., Bryant Peoples arrived at the Forrest Theatre at 11th and Walnut streets to buy tickets to “Hamilton.” The line was already snaking around the block. He was ready to buy four tickets — the maximum allowed — for his mother, his brother, his friend, and himself.

“My friend was super-hype about this. He got me hype about it,” said Peoples. “He’s out of town right now, so I dedicated my time to stand in line.”

After waiting an hour, Peoples did not get a chance to buy tickets, but instead got the chance to dig into a paper sack filled with colored wristbands. There were 17 different colors in the bag. He got a gold one.

“I got the lucky one!” he cheered. “I got the gold one!”

Bryant Peoples of Philadelphia gets a golden wristband after waiting in line for an hour outside the Forrest Theater. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

At 7:30 a.m., a gold wristband meant nothing. Getting in line early to be in front — a few people spent the night in lawn chairs at the front of the theater — meant nothing. The presenters of this touring production of “Hamilton,” opening in Philadelphia on Aug. 27 for 96 performances, devised a double-random ticketing process.

It took about an hour to distribute colored wristbands to the few hundred people in line. Then they had to wait until 8:30 a.m., when the staff of the Forrest would announce which wristband colors corresponded with which half-hour time slot, when your color allows you to buy a ticket.

“You feel like you have a chance at this point,” said Kathryn Zeigler, a Philadelphian who had considered traveling to another city to see “Hamilton.” “But I guess we’ll see at 8:30 what my yellow wristband means. It could be a difference between 9 o’clock and 5 o’clock.”

The elaborate process was designed to deter scalpers from scooping up blocks of tickets.

“The words for them now are secondary market brokers. But, yeah, scalpers,” said Frances Egler, director of Broadway programming for the Kimmel Center, which is co-presenting “Hamilton” at the Forrest Theatre. “It’s making sure there’s tight control on tickets, to make sure the people who really want to see the show can see the show at the price the show can offer.”

Tickets in Philadelphia range from $129 to $499. Secondary market tickets can go for easily triple that amount.

Even face-value tickets are a daunting cost for Susan Thompson. More than a year ago, she promised her 13-year-old grandson she would take him to “Hamilton” for his birthday. At the time, she didn’t realize what she would have to do to keep her word.

Thompson felt conflicted about standing in line to spend the better part of a day and pay hundreds of dollars to take a teenager to a show.

“My daughter said, ‘Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it,’ ” she said. “I said I’m not going to. I’m just going to explain it to him, ‘I tried, that’s life. Life’s not always as fair as you’d like it.’ ”

The staff of the Forrest Theatre presented poster boards on the sidewalk listing time slots, and a pile of colored cards in a brass tumbler. At the stroke of 8:30, they ceremoniously spun the tumbler, like they do in bingo, and pulled out colors one by one, sticking them next to the time slots listed with Velcro.

A Forrest Theatre employee fills in the board assigning time slots to colored wristbands while hundreds wait to buy tickets to “Hamilton.” (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Hundreds crowded around, spilling into Walnut Street, as a young woman with a megaphone announced each color.

“Our 9 o’clock-to-9:30 a.m. time slot is … gold!” she said. Cheers went up, particularly from Peoples with the gold wristband, which allowed him to immediately queue up to buy those coveted tickets.

“You probably made me lucky, man,” he said to a reporter. “That’s a fact. That’s a fact.”

People who could not get tickets through either the box office or online — which required pre-registration by June 27 — still have one more option. Ten tickets for each performance are held back for day-of-show purchase, for $10.

The daily lottery, #HAM4HAM (get it?), is available through the Hamilton mobile app.

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