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Art for Free! Come and get it!
Illustration: Gustavo Reyes

The arrival of the Broadway musical production “Hamilton” has created great expectations in the Bay Area.

It is indeed a rare occasion to be able to attend a show of that magnitude, one that provides a rare glimpse of some amazing performers “of color” (not my favorite expression, at all!) dressed as “founding fathers” of this country, and pretending to be in control of the destiny of this sorely lacking democracy—all done in hip-hop style! It just does not get more “cutting-edge” than that! (A little irony intended.)

If you want to attend the show, it will cost you a pretty penny. It is all part of the game in this society: In the extremely rare moment when the doors of the theater establishment open up—this time to the undeniable talent of the part-Puerto Rican Lin Manuel Miranda and crew (including some wonderful Bay Area artists)—the price of the tickets go up, up, up and away, like that beautiful balloon. Online, tickets are anywhere from $1,114 to $2,773, making them prohibitive for most folks, highly educated or not.

If we look at the history of “Hamilton,” that high price bar was set up from the beginning. For the first workshop presentations of the show, in August of 2015, 700 people lined up in New York City with the hopes of winning lottery tickets to the show! Most everyone has experiences with the lottery, the ultimate hoping against odds. For the record, I understand that there are lottery ticket days for the San Francisco run as well—good luck!

But, what if I told you that I can guarantee you great tickets to some truly amazing shows, all the time, generally free of charge?  You might say that I’m a dreamer, but let me explain.

As a theater artist and as a recently-retired professor of  Theater Arts and Ethnic Studies at SFSU, perhaps my main goal has been to demystify whichever subject I am teaching or participating in, be it theater, storytelling or literature. One of my favorite phrases always has been: “You have to learn to recognize poetry, when you see it walking down the street.” The same is true for theater.

Carlos Barón
Carlos Barón

What do I mean by that? I will give you an example.

A few weeks ago, I was near the corner of 24th and Mission streets with my granddaughter Luna, who is 6. We parked behind “Mierdonald’s” (not its real corporate name, of course). A group of men were hanging out and saluted us respectfully.

As we exited the parking lot, we encountered the show: A Latino man in his late 50s, modest-looking and broadly smiling, was feeding a large flock of pigeons—at least 30 of them. The birds made quite a stir as they loudly cooed and flapped their wings, fighting over the breadcrumbs that the man was sharing from a bag.

I stopped and engaged the man in conversation. Luna held firmly to my hand, as the birds now flew noisily around us. The man was eager to converse: “¡Sí señor! I love feeding these guys! They know me by now. I’ve been coming over a year, every day!.”

I asked him if he could actually recognize some of the birds. They all looked alike to me. “Oh, sure!” he answered, looking around. “There is this one, I call him Choco, ’cause he’s really black… I know him… and he knows me! Oh! There he is! Choco, Choco, Choco! Come here! Get up here! ¡Vamos!” The black pigeon proceeded to jump on the man’s extended right arm, dislodging another pigeon from that favored spot, closer to the bag of seeds.

“Sometimes, when I’m coming here, I walk by the BART station and I see Choco there, half sleep and I wake him up to tell him that I’m coming here! He kind of opens his little beady eyes and actually follows me! Right Choco?”

I’m not going to tell you what Choco actually said to the man, although exaggeration is a tool of the trade for storytellers like myself. You have to ask the bird feeder. Or Choco.

The man shook the last seeds from his bag and seemed suddenly rushed. “Shoot!” he said. “It’s getting late! There are other birds waiting a few blocks away!”

As he left, I turned to Luna and wanted to close the event with some “and the moral of the story is” type of comment, but she was more interested in pointing out one of the men from that group of “regulars,” who were still chatting and laughing a little further.

“He’s so little, Tata!” I looked at the man and yes, he was rather minimal, a veritable gnome of a man. “Well, Luna,” I said, “I bet he also has some stories. Want to ask him? Everyone has stories, and they’ll share them with you if you ask them with real interest.” Luna was satisfied just by looking at him, so we kept on walking.

That is what I wanted to share with you today. The important thing is to develop a sense for beauty, for the marvelous reality that is all around us—for free. No need to hope for winning lottery tickets to expensive Broadway shows.

Story by: Carlos Barón