Badlands - The Increasing Inaccessibility of the Arts

The Bruce Springsteen on Broadway Experience that Almost Was and Should Have Been

Apr 19, 2018 Web Exclusive By Zach Hollwedel Bookmark and Share

It has been just over three weeks since I had the horrible misfortune of letting two tickets to Bruce Springsteen on Broadway slip through my fingers. Two 75-dollar tickets, to be specific. I am still coming to terms with the trauma of that day.

I had done everything right (up until the very end). I went through the rigmarole of marking myself a "verified fan" on Ticketmastera process I thought would enable me to buy tickets to The Boss's one of a kind Broadway performance. I received not one, but two disheartening emails that I had been waitlisted for tickets that only verified fans could get. Waitlisted, when I'd already been "verified;" the irony wasn't lost.

And then it happened. Last week, I received an email. A final batch of tickets had been released for the show's extension through December. I was on the list. On Wednesday, March 28, I would be eligible to buy a maximum of two tickets to see an artist on my bucket list. I'd have to be at a computer at 11:30am EST (10:30 here in New Orleans) in order to get first dibbs, dibbs only accessible through a unique code, which I would receive via text in the 120-minutes before ticket sales opened.

A grand total of 26-tickets would be released at the $75 price point per show; after those sold out, tickets increased to $200, and then up to $850, all on a first-come, first-served basis.

I prepared. I checked my calendar. I price checked airfare. I made damn sure I was on a computer an hour in advance.

I was ill equipped for the mania that ensued at 11:30am EST. The verified fan process requires ticket buyers to search one date at a time. My preference was to attend on a weekend so as to minimize the amount of time I'd have to take off work. Weekend after weekend had already sold out of the $75 tickets. Then, a miracle. Friday, September 7 was sold out, but I had the opportunity to claim tickets for Thursday the 6th. Score; into my cart the tickets went. But a Thursday wasn't ideal. Despite a warning to not do so, I opened another window and tried one more search.

The cart cleared.

By the time my space in line refreshed itself, the $75 tickets were a thing of the past, and my best bet was a $400 seat on a random weeknight. I agonized over the buy button and again did not pull the trigger. Soon after, the run sold out, and I was left with nothing.

I know; you're thinking, "Why didn't you just buy it? How dumb are you! They told you not to open a new window." Believe me, I've berated myself far more acerbically for that momentary loss of judgment almost hourly these past twenty-two days. I am Prometheus strapped to a boulder, awaiting my daily visit from the vulture. I'm trying to find ways to distract myself.

The sting remains, but the sharp pain of last week has slowly dulled, as I've gone through each of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's stages of death. After days of denial ("The show's probably not really that good") and anger, it's safe to say I've landed somewhat squarely between depression and acceptance. A sixth step has even presented itself; naïve optimism. ("Maybe someone I know will come out of the woodwork with a ticket I can afford.")

And therein lies the crux of it. Affordability. I'm not going to call out the irony of spending $850 a head to see a man who has built his career singing about the working class. That point has already been well-articulated by far better writers than myself. And I in no way begrudge the people who pay that premium price to see Bruce's show. I've tortured myself by reading many a review that claims the show is worth every penny, regardless of the price tag.

Bucket list artist. That's what I called Bruce Springsteen. His Broadway show is apparently unlike any other appearance of his. Wouldn't it make the perfect bucket list experience? Shouldn't I be willing to pay any price to have that experience? I've thought about that a lot, too. I regret my decision. In a year or two, I won't miss that few hundred dollars, but I'll still kick myself for how close I got to a seat at the Walter Kerr Theater to see Bruce Springsteen's limited engagement.

I spent the first eight years of my career working in nonprofit theater in New York. The $20 ticket was the bread and butter of the companies with which I worked. The price point made art accessible to just about everyone in the city. Tourists and locals alike could find a show worth the price of a movie ticket and popcorn, and instead experience two to three hours of live theater. And if theater wasn't their cup of tea, there were museums and dance performances and gallery shows and installations, all accessible, all affordable.

Yet, arts funding is one of the first items slated for the chopping block when government budget season rolls around. For the companies I worked with, the potential for loss of funding was always a very real possibility; like dark clouds during Jazz Fest, it meant the show quite literally might not go on. Is it that arts patrons have become demographically wealthier, and thus governmental support is viewed as less necessary? Or have the arts themselves become more expensive, and only those who are well-off can become true patrons? Should arts lovers whose financial comfort levels fall closer to the $20 ticket than the $400 (or $850) ticket have to decide between an evening at the theater or a month's rent? Or a student loan payment? Or a retirement contribution (if they're so lucky)? Or a flight to Europe? Should buying a ticket to a show require that much deliberation, that much hesitation, that much stress and regret?

Bruce Springsteen has found a new, intimate outlet for his story; it is one more step in the continued evolution of an artist nonpareil. 939 individuals nightly can afford the 120-minute experience and emerge from the theater transformed. My regret for not committing to being amongst their ranks still trumps the sticker shock I grappled with on the 28th. I don't want to feel that regret again. But I also worry that growing wealth disparity and increasing ticket prices will soon render certain cultural experiences off limits to entire sections of the American population.

And I'll keep hoping I nab a $75 ticket to Bruce Springsteen on Broadway somehow.


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Dorothea Killian
April 19th 2018

When Bruce Springsteen lived at Lew’s house together with us he took such long showers that the hot water would run out. Not until reading his life story did I know he didn’t have hot water in his family home a while when he grew up. His mother carried hot water upstairs to the tub from their kitchen.

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