I promised you the story… and I figured I should probably tell it before I abandoned the blog for two weeks.
So: How I met Darren Criss. And just my day on Thursday in general.
(If you don’t know who Darren Criss is, he’s from Team Starkid (Harry Freakin’ Potter in A very Potter Musical, etc) and Glee (Blaine), and recently had a brief stint on Broadway as the lead character in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, taking over for none other than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). He’s also a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and an all around extremely talented musician-actor-dude. — And now, continuing on.)
Being the super lucky person I am, I’m currently a student at the University of Michigan, and my hometown isn’t too incredibly far from Ann Arbor, so making day trips there during the off-months isn’t a big deal. In honor of the time he spent at U of M for his undergrad, Darren Criss decided to make a stop in Ann Arbor on his summer Listen Up! tour and, you know, happen TO MAKE THE SHOW FREE.
As in: You could see Darren Criss. In concert. At U of M. FOR. FREE. (If I could put fireworks around those letters to tell you how exciting that was, I would, but WordPress is yet to come up with that feature.)
The only problem with it being free was the fact that they had 1,800 seats in the venue, and they decided to give out 1,000 Crissband-wristbands ahead of time, to those inherently lucky people who live in Ann Arbor for more than just the school year (or who at least had a way of getting to Ann Arbor in five seconds flat in order to grab a Crissband at one of the giveaway spots). Aaand then they up’ed that number to 1,100 given away ahead of time. And then, day before the concert, they announced that they had up’ed it again. To 1,350. WHICH MEANS THAT THERE WERE ONLY 450 CRISSBANDS LEFT FOR THOSE OF US COMING IN FROM OUT OF TOWN THE DAY OF THE CONCERT.
I found this out while two of the three girls I was attending the concert with were at my house Wednesday night for a “sleepover” (despite our best efforts, hardly any sleep actually happened–our driver only got two hours). So that was a pretty depressing and nerve wracking thing to happen, and we had several conversations throughout the night that basically went like this:
UMICH FRIEND #1: Should we just leave now? Should we just go to Ann Arbor right now?
ME: No, they said you can’t start lining up until 6 AM. We’ll just have to make sure to get there before that, so we can rush the front of the line the moment they start letting you line up. We’ll be okay… I hope.
DRIVER FRIEND: I WILL BE SO ANGRY IF WE DON’T GET INTO THE CONCERT. I SWEAR. SO. ANGRY.
… But, nonetheless, we did manage to drift off for a few hours during the night, and then we were up again at 4:00 AM in order to get ready. It was a mixture of exhaustion and adrenaline as we all got dressed and stuff bagels in our mouths–a wonderfully strange combination that continued throughout the morning, as we drove through darkness and rain so hard it might as well have been a tsunami in order to reach the Michigan Theatre by 5:45.
We figured, “Hey. We’re fifteen minutes early. That’s great. That’ll give us enough time to park the car and maybe grab some Starbucks before getting ready to sprint for the front of the line at 6:00 AM.”
But no. Lo and behold, the people running the concert (Sonic Lunch–they’re super cool, check them out) hadn’t managed to keep the fans at bay until 6:00 AM as planned, so when we showed up FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY, there were already over 100 people in line to get Crissbands. We sped off to the nearest parking garage and then sprinted for the line, and managed to get in it with about 150 people ahead of us. At 5:50 AM. AKA ten minutes before you were even supposed to be allowed to line up.
By 6:04, there were people walking away with their heads hanging, feet dragging, not willing to wait in line for the next hour and a half before Sonic Lunch started distributing wristbands, because there were already so many people in line there was next to no way these barely even late people were getting in.
The fourth member of our party showed up, the group-wide adrenaline rush began to falter, and the sun slowly rose behind the clouds happily peeing all over Ann Arbor. (Just a warning, if you didn’t already figure this out: This is going to be a long blog post. Like a REALLY long one. There’s a reason I’m a novelist; I can’t tell stories quickly to save my life. If you want a more condensed version of all this, just look at the pictures and ignore my rambling, gushing words.)
Finally, after standing there for about two and a half hours, it was our turn to pick up our Crissbands and move to wait in the next line, which would determine where we sat in the Michigan Theatre.
The day wore on, it continued to rain, and rain, AND RAIN SOME MORE, and basically, we ended up having to stand in line for like six hours. And when I say “stand,” I literally mean “STAND,” because even after it finally stopped raining, the ground was still to wet to sit down on.
Check out dat Starkid swag.
Everyone took turns going to Starbucks and CVS to pee and get rations (hello, chocolate bars and Skittles), and about once an hour a dude with a camera ran up and down the line grabbing footage of all of us screaming ourselves hoarse and acting like we weren’t totally delirious from waiting in line for so long. At one point, he stopped to talk to our group, and the conversation went something like this:
UMICH FRIEND #1: Hey, what’s all the video for? Is Darren going to see it?
CAMERA DUDE: Oh yeah, it’s to advertise for Sonic Lunch. And I’m sure we’ll show it to Darren at some point. Do you want to say something to him? [held up the camera]
UMICH FRIEND #2: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome!
UMICH FRIEND #1: What do we say? What do we say?!!
DRIVER FRIEND: Yeah, I’m just going to stand in the back. Smile and wave.
ME: WHAT DO WE SAY???!!!
UMICH FRIEND #2: I DON’T KNOW!
[CAMERA DUDE slowly backed away and ran off up the line with a terrified expression on his face.]
So that was fun and not at all embarrassing.
Went and bought merch, received free merch right afterward (yay for spending almost a hundred dollars on t-shirts and posters and crap, only get a free Darren Criss postcard and t-shirt right afterward), and finally–after several delays because the sound system wasn’t working or something–they let us in around 12:00.
This was the point where we were like, “Oh my gosh, guys. We might actually get into the venue before we die of exhaustion.”
Of course, we had about 1,500 of the 1,800 Crissband-holders ahead of us in line, so we figured we were going to be in the really crappy seats at the back of the balcony, but instead, we turned out being super, SUPER lucky, because we were one of the last groups they let into the main floor. Our seats were about two-thirds back, center section, next to the stage left aisle.
The concert began promptly over an hour late, but we didn’t even care, because we were finally inside and Theo Katzman (the opening act, and another U of M grad) was SO. FREAKING. GOOD. He has some more concerts coming up later this summer, and we’re planning on going to see him again.
I give you: Theo Katzman. Enjoy.
Theo finished with his set, the stage lights went down, and the wait for Darren Criss himself began.
There was a pretty long break between sets, and I’m pretty sure they did that on purpose, because while they were prepping the stage for Darren, they kept the audience lights turned down low and played smooth jazz. At one point I looked around, and the entire row behind me was conked out with their heads resting on each other’s shoulders domino-style.
Time passed, we fought the urge to take a nap, and then suddenly the stage lights turned on and the audience lights went off. Then the stage lights went off and the audience lights turned on. Back and forth they went a few times, before we finally figured out: Darren Criss wasn’t entering from the stage. They were trying to confuse us.
We turned around to face the back of the audience just as a mob of security guards burst through the door on our aisle and the band began to play Circle of Life from The Lion King. In a matter of seconds, Driver Friend and I had squished ourselves up against the aisleway and watched in disbelief as Darren Criss (THE. DARREN. FREAKING. CRISS.) passed us, pink sunglasses and all.
Yes, somewhere in this ultra blurry shot is Darren Criss. You’re welcome.
Darren’s performance was even more incredible than I was expecting. The guy can sing, and he kept stopping every couple of songs to tell us how grateful he was for our support and how excited he was to be performing at the Michigan Theatre (he used to usher there, back in the day).
He played an extra long set for us, bringing out Charlene Kaye (another Wolverine–everyone performing at the concert was a U of M grad) and playing “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” from A Very Potter Musical, which became kind of really emotional when it hit all of us that this song that had first introduced the world to Darren Criss was also kind of about him being back at the Michigan Theatre, at the University of Michigan. Which was, in a way, Team Starkid’s very own Hogwarts, along with all of ours.
When he came out for the encore, he didn’t just play one more song, but several, including Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, which is the song that skyrocketed him into the stratosphere during his first episode of Glee.
Unfortunately, my camera died partway through the concert, so I don’t have any pictures from the later parts.
The instant the show was over, my group of four went racing out of the theatre in order to get around the block to the alley the stagedoor was in, where we then waited patiently for an hour for Darren to come out, to get pictures and autographs.
And then, you know, waited not-so-patiently for another hour for Darren to come out.
And then wait not-at-all-patiently for another hour.
What you need to know about all that waiting: We only got two or three hours of sleep going into the day. We had been up since 4:00 AM. We hadn’t eaten anything but candy since around 4:30, and we hadn’t had anything to drink since around 11:00. We had already been standing, between waiting in line to get into the concert and the concert itself, for a collected nine hours.
We were hungry, tired, and going more than just a little bit insane.
The nice people at Sonic Lunch eventually came out with a few bags of Skittles for the seventy five or so people waiting at the stagedoor to share, but that involved each of us only getting a couple of Skittles, so that raised our blood sugar for about point-five seconds.
We started our stagedoor vigil around 3:15 PM. We waited there until about 6:15 PM. Around 6:10, one of the security guards told us that Darren had just finished dealing with the VIP people inside and he’d be coming outside to see all of us devotees in just a minute. Everyone cheered and freaked out and peeled themselves off the ground in order to crowd around the stagedoor.
One minute passed. Then two.
Then another of the security guards got a message through his earpiece that made him pale and look around at the mass of teenagers standing around him in such a way that told us he was truly afraid for his life.
With a sullen look on his face, he announced that Darren had just made a very un-Darren-like move and snuck out the front entrance while we were all waiting at the back.
At first, nobody moved. We were all in such disbelief. We had waited there for three. hours. to see him, and he’d just blown us off? After making such a big deal over this particular concert, this particular group of fans, being so special too him, because we were Ann Arbor? What? Darren Criss wouldn’t do that to us. Darren Criss was a Wolverine. He was one of us.
But sure enough, it soon became obvious that he truly had left out the front door, through the venue’s lobby, and we weren’t going to be meeting Darren.
Angry and confused, half-dead and disheartened, my group trouped on out of the alley and went to move the car we’d left in the overpriced garage right by the theatre to the cheaper lot outside my old dorm. Then, still ranting, we walked back to the Chinese place by the Michigan Theatre that we had been salivating over during our entire time waiting in line in order to finally answer our stomachs’ calls for nourishment.
While waiting for our food, we found out via Twitter that the reason Darren Criss hadn’t come out to meet his fans at the stagedoor was because he was playing a “secret” show at the Blind Pig (a bar-performance venue-thing in downtown) at 8 PM, and he needed to go get ready for it. Which honestly just made us even more upset, for two reasons:
A) He had tweeted since abandoning all of us there, but hadn’t apologized for it (and the one other time during the Listen Up! tour he hadn’t been able to stagedoor, he’d apologized).
And B) We couldn’t go to the Blind Pig show, because people in our group needed to work tomorrow (AKA yesterday, at this point, as I’m writing this post on Saturday).
We sat there, eating and sulking and talking about how, if we ever had the chance to meet Darren Criss, we were going to give him a piece of our minds, when–in the middle of discussing the degree to which we wanted to slap him across the face–suddenly Driver Friend and I, who were sitting facing the window out to the street, stopped and stared in disbelief. Our mouths dropped. Our eyes opened wider than should be humanly possible. And I simply pointed.
UMich Friends #1 & 2 turned, confused, to face the window. And the group of us promptly forgot all about slapping Darren Criss’s beautiful face, because said beautiful face was walking past TK WU right that moment.
Darren and his friends spotted us through the window as well, obviously fans based on our reactions and Starkid t-shirts, and this is when the story really starts getting crazy: Darren turned and made these faces:
Obviously a lot better looking on him than me.
He was so unbelievably happy to see us, one of the very few groups of fans still hanging around Ann Arbor at that point, that our hurt and anger evaporated as quickly as my hunger had when a fly decided to kamikaze on my vegetable fried rice five minutes earlier (I am NOT joking when I say this sort of thing happens to me too much).
As soon as Darren was out of sight and we had recovered enough to stop screaming at the tops of our lungs (the other diners weren’t exactly in love with us, to say the least), UMich Friend #2 raised her hand the way people do in the movies, like “Waiter! Check please!” and–after squeeing some more with our very nice and chatty waiter (he asked us if Darren Criss was cute; we replied by screaming), we raced out of TK WU and down East Liberty Street towards State, the direction Darren Criss and posse had been heading.
Unfortunately, when we reached State Street, we then had the conundrum of which direction to go. Fortunately, UMich Friend #2 knew that Darren used to work at Potbelly, which was directly to our right, so we decided to use that as our deciding factor and headed that way, towards the Diag and Law Quad and all of that (here’s a map of the University of Michigan’s Central Campus, for reference). We figured he was eating dinner somewhere, so we peered in through all the restaurant windows like the not-at-all stalkerish people we are, until finally, while walking past Nickel’s Arcade (a covered walkway between two buildings with shops lining it), we spotted Theo Katzman (remember the amazing opening act guy?) and a certain head of dark, curly hair.
A couple of other fans had caught Darren in the Arcade to take pictures, so we took the couple of seconds they bought us to race crazily towards the group, iPhones at the ready, in hopes of getting a group shot with Darren before he ran off.
He finished with the other fans and turned towards us, ready to take more pictures, when he got the most confused look on his face, like he obviously recognized us but didn’t quite believe it.
Driver Friend quickly informed him that we were indeed the four girls he had seen at TK WU just five minutes before–and that fact, shockingly, seemed to put his mind at rest (let’s be honest–if it were me, that’s when I would have called for a restraining order).
He told us that he could only stay for a minute, because he needed to get to the Blind Pig soon for the secret show, and we said that was fine, we just wanted one picture.
At which point he grabbed UMich Friend #2’s iPhone and decided to take individual pictures with each of us.
Let me make this clear: Darren Criss. Took selfie shots. With each of us. Like he held the iPhones. While resting his head on each of ours. To voluntarily take individual pictures. He even hugged both UMich Friends #1 & 2.
Can we address the fact that he is somehow even nicer and better-looking in person than in interviews and on TV and all that, which up until now I’d thought was ACTUALLY AND LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE.
We all gushed about how much we loved the show and how much we loved him and how honored we were to meet him, and then skedaddled out of Nickel’s Arcade before we embarrassed ourselves too much, in absolute disbelief that we had just run into Darren not once, but twice in ten minutes (okay, so the second time was kind of totally because we were searching for him, but whatevs–there was a good chance we weren’t going to find him).
(Also, another little thing to throw in here: When we were heading out to find him, I brought up that if I were a famous person coming back to visit my alma mater, the first place I would go was the Diag, which is basically the center of campus-life and one of the most well-known parts of the university. A little while after getting our pictures, Darren posted two Vines from over near the Diag. I AM BRILLIANT.)
We almost headed back to the cars at that point, but then we remembered that we had been planning to get frozen yogurt after dinner, so instead we made our way back to East Liberty, where we grabbed mountains of yogurt at Yoggie’s, still spazzing about our Close Encounters of a Darren Kind.
I was right in the middle of joking about how crazy Darren Criss would think we were if the Sonic Lunch people decided to use the footage of us being dumbstruck in line that morning in their video when you’ll never guess who spotted us through the restaurant window.
THAT’S RIGHT. IT WAS OUR OLD BUDDY DARREN CRISS.
This time his expression was like this:
Like, “HOW IN THE WORLD DO I KEEP RUNNING INTO YOU PEOPLE? THIS IS SO CRAZY!!!”
… Which brings up the very important realization of: Darren Criss recognized us. HE RECOGNIZED US. HE KNOWS WHO WE ARE.
After spazzing some more, laughing as we made faces at each other through the window while his group walked past (the rest of them seemed much more concerned by the way we kept seeing each other than Darren was), we then concluded that we had basically had the best day ever experienced by a human being ever. And that seeing Darren randomly around town three times in twenty minutes totally made up for the three hours we had wasted waiting at his stagedoor. And that we must be the luckiest group of Darren Criss fans alive.
Walking back to the parking lot across from our old dorm afterward (UMich Friends #1 & 2 and I are all a part of the same college within the university, so we all lived there), it was an extremely surreal moment of realizing that we had just met our idol basically at our home, and that it was his home too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used Nickel’s Arcade to shelter from the rain or snow; how many times I’ve walked through the Diag on my way to class, read the marque at the Michigan Theatre to see what was playing, sat snuggled up in my dorm room watching Darren Criss on Glee and in Starkid stuff.
I mentioned a year and a half ago when I went to see Darren in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway, during the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, that if I got to meet him, I would then be able to die happy. You don’t know how much I’d give to go back to my seventeen year old self and say, “Guess what. You don’t get to meet him at this stagedoor, and you didn’t get to meet him at the Glee Live concert, and you won’t get to meet him at the Listen Up! tour stagedoor either–but you will get to meet him. And it’ll be worth it.”
Because although that sounds dramatic and corny and immature, I really do have a lot to thank Darren Criss for, even though he’ll never realize it. I grew up a Spartan–hardcore Michigan State fan. The University of Michigan wasn’t even on my radar as a place I might go to college at someday until I saw A Very Potter Musical my sophomore year of high school. It was then that I began to think, “Hey. These Wolverine people might not be so bad.”
And of course it was then finding out that U of M had a great creative writing program, and the most amazing campus, and other people just like me that made me ultimately choose it. But if it weren’t for hearing “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” sophomore year, who knows if I would have ever come to the realization that U of M should even be an option.
My life has changed so much because of Darren Criss, and Team Starkid and Glee in general. I’ve made new friends, pushed through some hard times, and had amazing, unexpected experiences. Getting to meet him in such a unique and spontaneous way was just the culmination of it all, and I still have a little flutter of disbelief whenever I see the picture of the two of us together.
If Darren Criss ever magically stumbles across this post: Thank you so much, for being yourself, and being such a big inspiration to me and countless other people, and being so nice to my friends and me despite the fact it was kind of obvious we were stalking you at Nickel’s Arcade.
Dear reader, if you pushed through this entire, novel-length post: You deserve to meet Darren yourself, you crazy, totally awesome person.
And if you just looked at the pictures: That works too.
Talk to you when I’m back from vacation! Have a good couple of weeks, and treat the guest posters nicely!
PS. This post has had absolutely zero proofreading. I apologize if there are any awkward typos, because knowing me there are. Just in case, here’s an, “Oops. Sorry ’bout that,” in advance.