A Night At The 71st Annual Tony Awards

I still can’t believe it happened.

I’m still pinching myself that on Sunday the 11th of June, I was at the Tony Awards. It was the most surreal night, I felt like Cinderella but I probably looked like one of her ugly step sisters as it was 33 degrees and I’m pretty sure all my make up melted off by the time I reached the theater but I didn’t care because I was going to the Tony’s…as a seat filler, the highest honor next to being nominated.

While I am writing this, I’m also listening to the Spotify Playlist of the ‘Tony Awards 2017’ and I highly recommend it as it has some great songs from this year’s nominated musicals and If you very want to get into the spirit of musical theatre, I highly recommend listening to ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard as it’s just beautiful and Glenn Close’s voice is so soothing. I even passed by the Queen herself on Sunday night and she was looking radiant but I’m getting ahead of myself so I’ll start from the beginning: How I did I become a seat filler. Now that’s a good question and the answer is that I am part of the Intern Theater Network (TIN) here in New York and TIN is part of the American Theater Wing which they and Broadway League host the Tony Awards every year. As part of TIN, I go to bi monthly seminars  given by theatre professionals as well as free tickets to shows so naturally when I received an email from TIN to fill out a survey about my internship for a chance to be a seat filler at this year’s Tony Awards I jumped at the chance, not thinking anything would come from it and yet, lo and behold I was accepted and I WAS GOING TO THE TONY’S!!!!!!!!!!!!

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(This email was my version of Charlie Bucket’s Golden Ticket)

I received this email on the 2nd of June so thankfully I had more than a week to prepare and also stress about getting ready on a budget. New York is an expensive town and I had to get ready for the ball and not a fairy godmother in sight so thankfully it was H&M to rescue for the dress and bag and I spent a whole afternoon running around Manhattan looking for a pair of shoes. The heat has also not been kind this week  but none the less, all I had to do was getting ready and go.

I didn’t sleep much the night before due to the heat and nerves such as ‘what if I trip and fall and everyone looks at me’ so I toss and turn anxiously awaiting Awards day. I arise from my bed at 10:30am and jump out of bed, running around and trying to get things done. I have everything, now I need was my hair and make up done. Thankfully living in Jackson Heights means there are loads of cheap salons around me but unfortunately my hairdresser didn’t speak any english so that was an obstacle we both had to overcome but thankfully she made me look pretty except by the time I got back to my apartment, I had to put a can’s worth of hairspray in my hair to hold my curls and waves in place. Next was make up and this is where I struggle the most, I am no MUA but I tried my best as I contoured, baked and painted my face within 15 minutes as I was racing against the clock. While climbing into my dress and shoes, it was slowly becoming a reality that I was going to Theatre’s most prestigious night out. I looked in the mirror and I was ready go.

Look at my glowing face in after I re-applied all my make up in the ladies room.

Question: How many of you have ever gotten the Subway into Manhattan in an evening gown and heels? And how many of you ever done it in 33 degree heat? I know I keep going on about the heat but I want to emphasise just how bad it was. By the time I walked the 3 blocks from my apartment to the train I was all hot and bothered, trying to fan myself. Thank god for the subway’s air conditioning. It was like leaving the oven and entering into a fridge and thankfully I was able to get a seat and practice for the night ahead! I felt awkward being on my own, all dressed up and being surrounded my people in summer clothes but I knew I was not the only one who was feeling like this today. I’m sure other people were also using the subway to get to Radio City Music Hall.

As I got out at 42nd St/Times Square, the hot air hit me in the face and so did the rush of people heading for the train, trying to dodge that in new high heels is not an easy task but I managed and as I climbed the stairs and reached the street,  my excitement was rising with every step. Walking through Times Square and seeing all the tourists amongst the Broadway theatres was an odd but pleasant sight to witness.

I was so close I could feel and so could my shoes as my feet were being pinched and tightened with every step but I just hold myself to keep breathing and focusing on ‘Heel, Toe, Heel, Toe’. As I turned the corner and approached Radio City Music Hall, I was bowed over the red carpet already set up outside and of course the NYPD and barriers all over the place. I was here, now all I had to do was get inside which was surprisingly easy after they let me through the barrier. I entered the Golden doors (after throughout 3 security check points) and gazed at the beautiful theater inside before being led to my ‘seat’ to await instructions and be brief on the duties ahead of the evening. Everyone looked gorgeous in their dresses as I looked around the room to see if I could spot any familiar faces from TIN. The organisers were extremely friendly and welcoming as they described our job as ‘a big game of musical chairs’ and that’s basically what seat filling mostly is. I could hardly pay attention as I watched the stage get set up and ready for the show ahead.

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After we were briefed, we were allowed one final bathroom/water break before the guest arrived and we had to be in the seats. I spent most of that time taking selfies in the ladies room and drinking enough water so that I would not pass out with the heat. As I returned to our seats behind the camera and monitors, I got chatting to a lovely group of girls from California. They asked me where I was from and after I replied with ‘Ireland’- I was met with gasps and declarations of love for Dublin and Galway and this made me homesick for Dublin AND Berkeley. It’s nice to know that you can make friends easily with an Irish accent.

Our conversation was disrupted by the parade of guests coming in and taking their seats and I was in prime ‘celeb spotting’ mode before being brought up to seat fill in the front for the creative arts awards. These are technical awards being presented and practitioners such as teachers being awarded for their hard work with a Tony Award and grants from Citi Bank because “Theater inspires” which it does but so does funding. These awards were also being presented before the show went to live broadcast so plenty of guests and nominees were still arriving and getting settled. I saw John Legend and Chrissey Teigen being brought to their seats as well as David Hyde Pierce chatting with some other guests as well as Christine Ebersole sitting across from me. After these awards were presented, the camera crew and organisers were in a frenzy to get ready for the live broadcast as well as more people kept arriving and mingling in the aisles. I kept looking around me to eagerly and to be alert in case I had to move when in the row in front of me was an older gentleman and his wife sitting down. Now hold onto your hats because…. it was only former vice president Joe Biden and his wife Jill, yes that’s right JOE BIDEN. As I was moved out of my seat, the coordinators were scrambling trying to get people into their seats for the start of the show and it so nearly happened that I was gonna sit with the Bidens.  They stood up to let me in and just as I was about to step into the aisle…Another guest tapped me on the shoulder to inform me that was his seat. Damn! I awkwardly stand there confused trying to find another seat before Joe Biden looks behind him and sees me and another girl standing there- I swear this was our interaction:

Joe: ‘Hey girls, what’s going on? Do you not want to sit with us?’

Me: ‘Umm…umm…We would love to Joe but unfortunately we can’t…I love your work!’

And then I ran away. So that’s how I met the 44th Vice President of the United States. I was then relocated in a row further back for the opening number but I still had a great view of the stage and Kevin Spacey nailed the opening number with help from Stephen Colbert and Whoopi Goldberg. I was enjoying the start of the show but unfortunately between awards or straight after a Broadway’s performance, I had to act like a ninja and quickly move from seat to seat. whenever I was put and sometimes that meant running all full speed down the aisle in heels while trying to weave through guests and dodge the cameras. I prayed I wouldn’t trip and fall and thankfully I did neither; I did however accidentally step on a few people’s toes and grab a woman’s hair while I was trying to get into the middle of a row but sure look, it was bound to happen anyways.

I was happily enjoying the show for the first half until once more I was kicked out of a seat and there was no where for the coordinators to put me so I was ushered to the back of the auditorium to sit behind the monitor screens and wait. This felt like an eternity waiting to move again, unfortunately I had to weave my head through the screens and people standing to get a tunnel vision of the stage and it’s performances. I did not mind missing Come From Away’s performance or Miss Saigon’s but I was gutted when Ben Platt came onto the stage to perform ‘Waving Through A Window’  from Dear Evan Hansen. If you’ve been living under a rock; I suggest you put it on Spotify right now while you read this. I got to see him perform the song through a shiver of the black curtain and my head weaved through other people standing in my way because I WAS NOT MISSING THIS SONG! I was singing along with him and as he and the cast finished and took their bow; I shot up from my seat and gave a standing ovation with the rest of the audience and I wiped away a tear; mainly because I knew my chances of getting a ticket to the show was slim to none because *Spoiler Alert* He won the tony for best actor in a musical and the show also won from best musical but at least I got to see ‘Waving Through A Window’ even if it was from way in the back.

I was getting antsy and wanted to get back up to where the action was so myself and another seat filler Mark thought about running down the aisle to the coordinators to be sat next but thankfully we didn’t or our asses would have been out on the street. A few more minutes passed and I was luckily sent back to the middle where I was sitting right behind Tim Minchin, the creator of Matilda and Groundhog Day the musicals and It took a lot of willpower to not tap him on the shoulder and say how much I loved his work but unfortunately I wasn’t allowed speak to the guests unless they started a conversation with me hence Joe Biden talked to me first so that was fine and also who would pass up an opportunity to talk to Joe Biden. I am getting side tracked, I apologise.

Soon after I was moved further up to the front and I actually passed by Ben Platt and Sara Bareilles who had that hit song ‘Love Song’ in 2008, remember? Well now she’s on Broadway starring in Waitress and also wrote the music and lyrics for the show too so she was in the aisles talking to other musical people while also trying to do a sketch about flogging pies to sell Waitress to the masses. I loved it and definitely wanted to grab a dessert from her but sadly the production crew wheeled it away before I could blink. It was getting towards the end of the show as most of the musicals had performed and the top awards were being given out however Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 came on stage to perform their ‘Balaga’ number and because I was sitting on the aisle, I got a rattle shaker from the performers as they danced in the aisles and as soon the spectacular number was finished; I had to awkwardly run up back to the monitors with a basket containing rattles and dumped it down before being grabbed and told to run back towards the front as they need people to fill the middle. I was getting a great workout I have to say. I honestly was catching my breath by the time it came to the end of the show and thankfully I had an unreal middle view of the stage and got to witness Lin Manuel Miranda’s exchange with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright Penn as their House of Cards characters, Frank and Claire Underwood in person and it was the greatest awards presenting of the night. And of course, me and the whole auditorium burst of into laughter when Bette Midler had the longest speech and went over the music to thank everyone involved in Hello Dolly! as well as erupting into applause and cheering when Dear Evan Hansen won for best musical. It was the best ending to the night.

After that and as Kevin Spacey and Patti LePone sang to close the show, everyone was mingling and taking pictures on the stage and I was free to go. I said ‘thank you’ to the organisers and the coordinators and I grabbed a playbill as a memento before trying to get a selfie with the stage.

 

There was much excitement as people were leaving the theater but I lingered on to be a fly on the wall and watch celebrity and the guest interact like the creep that I am, I also wanted to get an extra rattle from The Great Comet so I was hunting in the aisles for one when Christian Borle from Falsettos and NBC’s Smash and his entourage passed me in the aisle and I also took Gavin Creel’s photo with an eager fan as he smiled and cradled his tony award. I didn’t want to leave as I moved closer to the stage while people were still around and ignore the FOH staff to exit the building and I couldn’t believe my eyes when Glenn Close walked right passed me and looked like the Queen she is in a gorgeous grey gown. I ushered towards the exiting doors and was caught in a crowd surrounding Leslie Odom jr as he took pictures and autographs for fans before being escorted out by security.

The main lobby of Radio City Hall was a mess as everyone was scrambling to get out at the same time meanwhile I was trying to get downstairs to the ladies room and more importantly the water fountain; it was 11:30pm, still roasting and I was still dehydrated. I left the theater with another TIN member Caroline as we exited and took more photos outside the building, not wanting the magical night to end before we parted ways for our after parties. There were many buses and coaches waiting to take guests to the main Tony’s afterparty at the Rockefeller centre but unfortunately I did not have a golden ticket for that part of the night sadly. Instead I walked in the hot night air to the TIN after party at O’Lunney’s Irish bar in Times Square to join the other seat fillers and exchange stories of who they saw/sat beside. I was exhausted and my feet were sore and blistered- it was time to call it a night, I said goodbye to the new friends I made and limped with my swollen sore feet to get the subway home. As I waited for the train to arrive I was still in shock of everything that had happened over the past few hours and I as boarded the subway to take me home to Queens, my Cinderella fantasy was over and I turned back into a Pumpkin.

Apologies for the extremely long blog entry but it’s been my greatest adventure yet.

Until Next time,

Much Love,

Ari X

 

 

 

 

 

 

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