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June 5, 2009

The Ultimate Rush conquered, lessons learned

by Jesse North

Like many things in life, the big scary moments that we all anticipate loom in front of us like they are impenetrable, but they often come to pass like a cool breeze. The Ultimate Rush lived up to its expectations, in that it was completely unpredictable, and nothing went the way I expected. And it definitely ranks as the most scary, fun, crazy, stressful rush I have done. It makes it even more memorable that I was able to cover it not only for Stage Rush, but also for BizBash [Tonys Offer Discounted Tickets for Those Willing to Spend the Night in the Rain].

In the day that preceded The Ultimate Rush, I was on the verge of throwing up all day. The thought of sitting outside all night in the rain for tickets that weren’t even guaranteed was enough to turn my stomach. Don’t think there wasn’t a temptation to just skip it and watch the ceremony from the comfort of my couch. But I forged ahead with the plans anyway. While getting ready at my apartment, I packed an umbrella, poncho (which I have never worn in my life), hoodie, blanket, towel, and gloves. I even shaved so that I would look more like my student ID picture (you can’t tell me that’s not dedication).

The moment you arrive at the location is always one of the most crucial moments of the rush, because in a matter of seconds, you’ll have a fairly accurate idea of what the majority of the experience will be like. I arrived at the Times Square Information Center at 1:30 a.m. and it was pouring. But my heart gave a little flutter when I saw that the Information Center had a massive overhang that not only spread as wide as the entrance, but extended to the end of the sidewalk. That eased more than half of my worries. I also smiled at the sight of the 24-hour McDonald’s that was next door, as not only its bathroom would come in handy, but we would also have late-night cravings covered. And then I took a look at the rushers who were already there. As the N train pulled into the 49 St. station, I thought to myself, “God, I really don’t want to be the first person in line.” There were 13 people waiting when I got there, all huddled into the entrance of the Information Center. The moment I introduced myself to these people, a woman with mascara tear stains under her eyes with a clenched hand approached us. “Why are you in my country? Having babies! Lamaze! I need a cigarette!” she yelled. Our introductions to each other trailed off as we watched her from the corner of our eyes. “Do you have a cigarette, tourist?” she spat at us. One guy answered, “I’m not a tourist…” and was quickly interrupted by her shouting, “Fuck!” and flouncing away. The laughter and conversation that ensued told me that I was in good hands, and that these people would be the ones to get me through the night, not my poncho.

Oliver, Emily, Andrea, Sarah, Zach, Scott, and I were among the 18 or so that kept guard at the Information Center all through the night. We didn’t form a line, but rather gave each other numbers in the order we arrived (I became 13, as a guy whom no one had spoken to decided to bail five minutes after my arrival). As other people joined us—although that didn’t pick up until the early morning—we informed them of their number in nothing but a helpful manner. The numbering was a comforting system so that we would feel organized when and if we were asked to form a proper line (this was important, since only the first 200 people would be eligible to enter the lottery).

These people made the hours fly by. I have never experienced this on a rush. I have barely spoken a word to anyone on a rush before. But these guys made it all different. We all talked and laughed through the night, discussing every actor, show, and moment of theater that came to mind—stuff that would make non-theater enthusiasts run away screaming.

The Information Center opens at 9 a.m., and we were all highly anticipating our move to the lobby. But at 7 a.m. when some janitors arrived to prep the venue, we watched them raise the gates in heightened glee because we thought they were letting us in early. Not so—they were just letting themselves in. Instead a few minutes later, we were all moved from under the awning and into a roped queue. We reluctantly took our places, distraught to be out in the rain that we had watched pour down all night. Begrudgingly, we kept telling ourselves that we had been fortunate to have the shelter overhang for as long as we did. Luckily around 7:15 a.m., the rain ceased for the first time since early the night before.

At 8 a.m., the line count reached 50 people. There was much resentment held by the “night crew” for the people that showed up on what could have been their commute to work. At this point, there was much sprawling out in our queued section of the sidewalk and I watched embarrassed as we garnered one confused look after another from the bustling pedestrians of Times Square. A little before 9 a.m., the line grew to about 75.

At 9 a.m., the Information Center opened, and we were generously ushered into the sheltered (and carpeted!) lobby. Unfortunately, only about the first 30 people in line would fit, so the rest of the rushers needed to remain in the queue outside. But then again, we did stay on the street all night. At 10 a.m., a representative from the Tonys announced that they would be starting the lottery entries an hour early. Everyone rejoiced at this news. She described the lotto process and reminded us that Constantine Maroulis of Rock of Ages would be conducting the drawing. Every person was handed one of those Admit One/carnival ticket stubs with numbers on it.At 2:30 p.m., I walked back to the Information Center in anticipation of the 3 p.m. drawing with clammy hands. In the hours that preceded, I experienced light-headedness and cloudy thoughts. Yikes. Since finding out about this lottery rush Tuesday night while sitting at West Side Story, the elapsed time seemed to span years. I was ready for this all to be over with.

The Information Center was decorated for the event, which I found surprising. A projection screen flashed poster images of the nominated shows, and there was an actual Tony statue in a clear case. I found a good, centered spot as the rushers filled the room and then noticed my “night crew” to the right of the stage. A rep for the Tonys announced we were beginning and—to my surprise—introduced James Carpinello and Lauren Molina from Rock of Ages. Where was Constantine? I smirked to myself that the former American Idol contestant couldn’t even show up to this event, but if anyone else was thrown off by his absense, I certainly couldn’t tell. Everyone was probably way too preoccupied with the thought of winning the tickets to notice the change in the lineup. I just want to add, seeing Molina was no disappointment for me. She played a marvelous Joanna in the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd (that operattic voice!) I did, however, find her (obviously impossed) “rock” attitude for her show painfully contrived. But she was still sweet.

Carpinello and Molina were presented with the Lucite bucket that contained the lotto tickets. It looked to me like barely any tickets were in there. I never got to see what the line ended up being, but I imagined it couldn’t have been that few. The lottery was about to begin—the culmination of The Ultimate Rush. My heart was in my throat. I clenched my ticket, reading the numbers over and over frantically to make sure I was familiarized enough to recognize them if they were called. Numbers were read and people walked up to the table to claim their ticket. Surprisingly, only a few winners emitted any kind of excited acknowlegement that they had just won a ticket to the Tony Awards. That baffled me. Even Carpinello and Molina commented on the apparent apathy. The pressure I felt was so intense, I am sure I would have screamed had my number been called.

But it wasn’t. That’s right—I did not win the lottery. I did not win The Ultimate Rush. I couldn’t keep count of how many tickets were given away, but it had to be way more than the previously stated 50. Winning tickets kept being called, but none of them mine. Just as my recognition of the news began to settle in, members of the “night crew” came rushing over to me. Miraculously, they had all won! I was so happy for them, but wanted to join. We had talked all night about how much we all deserved to win tickets since we were the first ones there, that we showed dedication, that we put in the effort. For sure, none of their reactions to winning were among the muted ones. Sarah, Oliver, Andrea, and Zach came up to me saying, “You have to go! You have to get tickets! We have to stick together!” I was touched that they would even care—afterall, they had their tickets. Sarah said that she had two extra tickets that she didn’t need, and offered them to me. Then Oliver’s number was called, but his partner Emily had already won them tickets. He quickly handed me his winning ticket and told me to go to the table to buy the Tony tickets.

And that’s how I got tickets to the Tonys. Not because I won the lottery rush that I had camped out for, but because the awesome people I bonded with all night looked out for me. It was a huge lesson in kindness, and an awesome display of the bond between people with shared interests. It did pay to camp out all night!

So I will be present for the 36th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall. Kym is accompanying me. It will be a surreal night, for sure. Check back here Monday for full coverage of the awards.

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