Bill Kling, press secretary to Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), is a most sought-after man these days on Capitol Hill.
But it isn't information on any of the senator's committee or subcommittee assignments that hopeful Senate staffers and press are seeking as they pursue him -- asking the same question again and again. For the past several weeks, interest has shifted to Mrs. John Warner, better known as Elizabeth Taylor.
For those of you who have been in an "altered state" or just returned from Bora Bora, Elizabeth is making her stage debut at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes."
Desperate for tickets, everybody who has a passing acquaintance or remote connection with Kling has been asking for tickets. (The show was sold out three days after tickets went on sale at the box office. Kling repeats the same refrain: there are no tickets available.)
But the for dedicated theater-goer, an alternative -- if you're willing to take a slight risk, invest a little extra time and keep (literally) on your feet -- is standing-room tickets. Many major productions offer this option which will cost you some time, but compensate your pocketbook.
For some, standing-room tickets are a way of life. Cynthia Barvin, a 26-year-old lawyer for the National Health Lawyers Association, is a pro at the ins and outs of the standing system.
"I go everywhere for standing room because (regular priced) tickets are so expensive," she says. "I've been going for standing room for over 10 years, from Houston, where I used to live, to all through Europe, England, Vienna. . . ."
Barvin breezed into her place by the Eisenhower Theater box office about 5:30 p.m. recently, just in time to join her brother, who was visiting from out-of-town and had arrived minutes before. She claimed "position number 6" for the 40 spots that would go on sale one half hour before that evening's 7:30 p.m. performance of the "The Little Foxes." She dropped her coat to reserve her place in line and then popped over to the nearby Watergate Safeway to gather a picnic dinner of French bread, ham and cheese, grapes and bananas.
Not everybody else waiting in the line, that grew most between 6 and 7 p.m. that night, was anxious to stand. John Zeleznikow, a visiting professor of mathematics in the United States on assignment from Melbourne, Austrailia, was hoping for a last-minute cancellation.
Gregg Aversa, a school administrator of Harrisburg, Pa., complained that waiting in line is "boring, tedious and probably not worth the time." But he accommodated his wife, Bette, who was determined to see a Lillian Hellman play.
It was a sedate and relatively sparse crowd for "The Little Foxes," unlike some others I've seen. When I stood on a Saturday-morning line for "Amadeus" at the National Theater (I didn't get a ticket, the last was sold to the woman directly in front of me), someone in the group started and passed around a list to establish order in a milling-around mob.
One poor soul, who had driven down that morning from New York, somehow failed to sign up. As the box office was about to open, tempers grew shorter and the crowd turned on the man because nobody could identify his place in the by-then zigzagging line. And he wasn't on "the list." He backed down and quietly left the theater lobby; if he hadn't left voluntarily, the angry group probably would have thrown him out.
With American Ballet Theatre now in town -- and Baryshnikov, Makarova and Gudunov dancing -- it's likely to be a long wait and large crowd pressing for tickets to stand. "Ballet people" says Ron Orth of the box office window, "are fanatic."
Here are some ground rules the novice "standee" should be familiar with:
Whether or not standing room will be made available depends on two factors: the theater and the company staging the show.
Due to fire regulations, some local theaters, like Arena Stage, the Warner Theatre and Ford's, don't permit standing room.
Company managers for each visiting production set their own policies for whether or not standing room will be offered. For example -- as is the case with "The Little Foxes" -- standing room often will not be made available unless the show is sold out. Other companies, like American Ballet Theatre, Martha Graham, Eliot Feld and other dance and opera productions at the Kennedy Center, will offer standing room regardless of other box office sales.
If you do elect to stand, there's a fuzzy area known as "grabbing empty seats." When asked, most theaters in D.C. will defer on the "legality" of a standee's dive for an unoccupied seat after intermission. When a woman raced down the aisle for an empty seat at the first intermission of "The Little Foxes," I followed her lead (there were two seats) and we both sat comfortably for the rest of the show.
At the Folger Theater, the house manager will seat standers if vacant seats are available about one-half hour into the show. Going for a seat is worth a try; at worst, you'll wind up slightly embarrassed if the rightful ticket owner saunters by in the middle of Act II to claim the seat. (You go back to standing.)
Once you've got the gist of this new game, don't limit yourselves just to D.C. Go for broke. There may even be a surprise for you in New York. On a recent trip there, my husband and I got standing tickets ($8) a day in advance for "A Day in Hollywood, a Night in the Ukraine" (listed in The Times' advance weekend section as "sold out").
When we went to our places -- they actually assign standing places in some New York theaters -- a man came up to us, shoved two tickets into my husband's hands (orchestra, 12th row, center, priced at $27.50) and told us to enjoy the show. We did.
Cynthia Barvin recalls Beverly Sills' debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York years ago, for which she bought a $3 ticket to stand. Much to her surprise and delight, "Someone came up and gave me a $35 ticket, center orchestra. Everybody in the pricy seats was wearing diamonds and other jewelry; I was in jeans."
It was probably the best trade-up she ever made.