The Thrill of the Trade

By Bellamy Richardson | Dec 19, 2017

A New York City teenager explains the excitement of collecting trading cards—with a Broadway-style twist

By Justin "Squigs" Robertson

When I get home from school, the first thing I usually do is run to the mailbox. Yes, my real, physical mailbox, with real, physical letters inside. Yesterday, for example, I was waiting for a particular little brown package, which I ripped open as soon as I got upstairs. Inside was an assortment of trading cards, but not just any old trading cards: these were the Lights of Broadway show cards, created by artist Justin “Squigs” Robertson. Just as baseball fans can get excited over an A-Rod baseball card, theater fans can go hardcore for a Lin-Manuel Miranda card. Not only are these cards traded through the mail by Broadway fans, like me, all across the world, but they’re educational and provide an inviting and safe community for theater geeks.

I bought my first pack of five Lights of Broadway trading cards a few months ago at One Shubert Alley, the tiny Broadway merchandise store near Times Square. My little sister already had a respectable collection going and traded avidly with her friends, and I wanted in on the fun. At first, I thought I’d just buy a pack or two of cards, be really into them for a few days, and then leave them on my desk to collect dust with my Silly Bandz from 2009 and Rainbow Loom bracelets from 2012. That didn't turn out to be the case at all. I started buying cards every time I went to Times Square (which is pretty often, since I love musicals). I traded cards with my sister, but it wasn’t until I joined the Lights of Broadway Show Cards Trading Group on Facebook that I became increasingly obsessed. Within the group, people can post cards they’re searching for or cards they have up for trade. The Facebook group also gives theater fans an opportunity to talk about their favorite shows and other Broadway-related topics. (It’s totally safe—there’s a roster of people who have been reliable traders in the past, so you know that the people you trade with are trustworthy.)

This somewhat hidden society of theater fans is made up of people from all over. I’ve sent cards to people in the Facebook group who live in California, Nova Scotia, and Minnesota. I also trade with my friends in NYC, whether it’s my sister, a friend in a Broadway musical, or a classmate. Anyone can be a part of this community as long as they have two important things: a love for theater, and a few bucks to spare.

I’ve learned so much about the history of Broadway musicals through trading Lights of Broadway show cards. Did you know that Kevin Kline is a graduate of Juilliard’s first ever drama class, and that he’s received five Golden Globe nominations? Every card includes fun facts like that one.

But the best part of these cards is the way it connects the people who make theater to the people who love theater. Something especially fun to do to bring the cards to life is collecting signatures from the actors at the stage door. One of my favorites is a Dear Evan Hansen show card that I got signed by Laura Dreyfuss, Kristolyn Lloyd, Michael Park, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Garrett Long, and Michael Lee Brown. My friends and I waited at the Dear Evan Hansen stage door for over an hour as the actors came out one by one. Every time the door opened, the crowd screamed, and I could hear everyone standing behind us saying, “Who is it? Who is it?”

The actors were actually excited to sign our trading cards—they don’t see trading cards nearly as often as they see Playbills or posters. When my sister showed her Dear Evan Hansen card to Jennifer Laura Thompson, the actress took a quick look at it and said, “Look at that, Michael [Park] signed right over my face! I guess I’ll sign my name over his face, then, for some friendly payback.” The crowd got a good laugh out of that.

Another time, at the stage door of Waitress before posing for a selfie with me, star Betsy Wolfe said, “Look at you with all your cards! I always like to sign pretty for these!” In a crowd of people holding Playbills and tickets (which are both super cool for their own reasons), having Lights of Broadway show cards definitely makes you stand out.

In an age where everything is digital, having a physical hobby is a nice change. While Facebook is the platform through which we talk to collectors and make deals, the most exciting part of trading is receiving the actual cards in the mail and being able to hold them. I love taking a colorful card out of its envelope, then out of its plastic cover, and placing it into my alphabetically sorted binder. I know this binder will be something I’ll keep for a long time, and treasure when I’m older. It’s filled with hundreds of cards I’ve worked hard to collect—I’m leaving a space for the Autumn 2017 set, which comes out soon. As soon as it does, I know where I’m headed: right over to One Shubert Alley.

Which performer or show would you most want a card of? Do you have a real life hobby involving your theater love? Tell us about it in the comments.