As one of the first lines of his eponymous musical describes him, Alexander Hamilton was the “10-dollar founding father” — the first treasury secretary's face is literally on the $10 bill. As such, it’s part of Hamilton’s culture to offer a few people a chance to see the show for $10. It’s a smart move, and one that makes the hot-ticket show more accessible to the 99 percent — face-value tickets in New York cost $179 to $849 each, and that’s if you can get tickets in the first place. More often than not, people turn to ticket resellers such as StubHub to buy them, at a significant markup, of course. But the lottery is the great democratizer, giving everyone a chance at an affordable Hamilton ticket, even if it’s only a small chance.
Currently, prospective audience members can enter the lottery for performances in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles through the Hamilton app, which means that anyone can enter, whenever, from the comfort of their homes. But before the app was introduced, the show’s creator and original star, Lin-Manuel Miranda started a new tradition: the Ham4Ham show, accompanying the in-person lottery for $10 tickets. (Ham4Ham stands for seeing Hamilton for a Hamilton, aka a $10 bill, as the in-person lottery is cash only.)
Lottery is a misleading term, since winners don’t get anything for free — they still have to pay for their tickets. But it’s one of the two main ways shows tend to sell significantly discounted tickets on the day of the show. The other way is a rush line, where people line up outside the box office before it opens (typically at 10 a.m.) to buy tickets for $40 or less. Rent, the hot-ticket show of the '90s, popularized rush tickets to give the people the show was about an opportunity to actually see the show. The bonds people formed in line with each other helped the Renthead community grow, and set the tone for the current musical fandom experience. But rush lines aren’t a perfect solution, since people line up on the sidewalk hours before the box office opens — in New York, where the bars close later, it’s fairly common to see partygoers leaving the club as theatergoers are getting in rush lines in Midtown — and that can be a problem, especially for a show as popular as Hamilton. So a lotto is the most logical choice, as it clogs up the sidewalk for only maybe 45 minutes before people disperse.
But Hamilton’s lottos (and the Ham4Ham shows that accompanied them) were so popular that it became easier to switch to an online lottery. There were so many people flooding 46th Street in New York (where Hamilton’s Broadway theater is) that only one lane of traffic could get through, and NYPD had to constantly remind bystanders not to stand in that lane in the hopes of a better view of cast members and other celebrities giving a free show to anyone nearby.
To celebrate the first national tour’s opening night in Los Angeles, Lin-Manuel Miranda brought back the live Ham4Ham show and in-person lottery for one time only. People started lining up to enter the lottery at around 2 a.m., according to Cathy Reinking, who lives in Atlanta but is visiting her daughter, Kate, who lives in North Hollywood. Kate has entered the digital lottery every day (and will continue to do so), but says it’s the “saddest notification” to see that she didn’t win.
Macy McGuire from Orange County arrived with her boyfriend around 8:30 a.m. “We’re glad we got here when we did, because the line kept going around the corner,” McGuire says. “I’m a math teacher, so I understand, statistically, there’s no advantage to waiting in the middle of the line [for a randomly drawn lottery] versus the end of the line.” But, she added, “The line opened at 10, and we’re very familiar with theater and shows, and we knew that if we didn’t get there early, we might not get a ticket, so we wanted to be here early.” Getting there early didn’t make them any more or less likely to win, but the odds were in their favor — McGuire’s boyfriend won, so they were able to attend opening night, six hours after his name was called. “We brought a change of clothes in the car, just in case, so that we could dress up and not wear street clothes,” McGuire said.
Chineza Ezinkwo from Sherman Oaks got in line with her friend at around 10 a.m. “It’s been a pretty pleasant experience [standing in line], considering it could have been more tedious,” she said. “We’ve been nerding out with each other, but it’s fun being around other similar nerds.”
There is a sense of camaraderie with being in a lotto or rush line. Everyone is there because they’re passionate about the same show, and fans will start impromptu sing-alongs to pass the time. Wednesday’s Ham4Ham lottery had at least 1,500 entrants, and likely even more people in attendance for the show. LAPD shut down a block of Hollywood Boulevard in front of the theater so people could watch, but it was hard to get a good view, since most of the crowd was out on the street, and the cast was in the shade, under the Pantages’ marquee. The crowd was large enough that there were conflicting sing-alongs before the show, since people in the back couldn’t hear what the people in the front were singing, and vice versa. But everyone quieted down when it was time for the show. Josh Henry, Rory O’Malley and other cast members came out with Miranda and the show’s music director, Alex Lacamoire, to sing a short medley of California songs — “California Love,” “California Dreamin’,” “Hotel California,” “California Gurls,” “California Girls” and “I Love L.A.”
Then it was time for the moment of truth: the lottery itself, led by a seasoned veteran, Kaitlin Fine, who ran the Hamilton lotto in New York as the associate company manager. Now she’s the associate company manager for the show in Chicago, but she came to L.A. to help out. She loved being back in the thick of it with the in-person lottery. “It was so fun, I was so happy and very lucky to be here for it.” She added, “It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.”
Before the lottery results were drawn, entrants wrote down their names and whether they wanted one or two tickets. For opening, the crowd was told there were 40 tickets available, all for very good seats. But with a crowd so big, not everyone is guaranteed to win. Three members of the Martyn family came from Cyprus for the lotto, dad David and daughters Rebecca and Natalie (David says, “There are two other people in the family, [but] they don’t understand [Hamilton], so we’re kind of the evangelists”). The girls love the show, and know all the lyrics, though they haven’t seen it yet. “It’s just the best thing in the world. You don’t understand it until you actually listen to it,” Rebecca said. David added, “I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is kind of on the level of Mozart and Shakespeare, that’s what I was trying to convey to other people, that’s who he is, he’s that kind of genius, that brilliant earth-shaker in the world of culture.”
But what would they do if they only got two tickets instead of three? Rebecca and Natalie immediately answered, in unison: “We’ll have a duel.”
“Not to the death,” Natalie said. Rebecca added, “Like rock paper scissors.”