Confessions of a Box Office Manager: I have briefly hung up my box office pince-nez and am doing a ‘regular' job
The latest from our wonderful box office mole
Well, here we are then. And it had all been starting to look a bit, dare I say it, hopeful...
Over the last decade – sorry, I mean over the past seven months – it has been fascinating, frequently admirable and occasionally deeply moving to note all the side hustles and new (hopefully temporary) jobs that theatre people on both sides of the footlights have taken while our industry is in suspension. West End divas working as delivery drivers, newly trained yoga teachers who are also WOS and Olivier Award nominees, marketing people applying their skills in corporate fields far removed from the theatrical ones they cut their professional teeth on, ticketing experts selling funeral plans (yes really)... The list is endless and ongoing but, with a second lockdown underway, some of these indefatigable showbiz warriors have found themselves newly divested even of their stop-gap jobs, let alone their real careers.
It had been wonderful to see pockets of theatrical activity cropping up all over the country, despite the fact that it's only a fraction of what would be happening at this time during a normal year. As of last Thursday however, all that once again ground to a shuddering halt, at least until the beginning of December, and one can only pray that things will be able to get moving again then.
Heartening and touching as it was to see the adaptability and sheer grit with which so many people in our glorious industry have tackled this rotten period, it's important to keep in mind that the majority of them had little choice, being freelancers with no option but to find new avenues of work in order to simply live. There just hasn't been enough theatre work to go around this year.
To that end, and with the show I work on being mothballed until next spring, I have briefly hung up my box office pince-nez and am doing a ‘regular' job. I can't talk about it too much, partly for confidentiality purposes (no, I haven't joined the Secret Service, although I would at this point consider almost anything that pays me and gets me out of the house) and partly because, well, would you really want to read a blog entitled "Confessions of a Customer Service operative"?! In the words of G(a)linda "that was a rhetorical question..." God, I miss musical theatre.
Technical training online for a whole new skill set has been tricky – it feels super-strange to have a bunch of colleagues and supervisors that I've never met in person – but perhaps not as challenging as having to dampen down one's, er, theatrical exuberance. Without thinking, I quoted Avenue Q, Les Mis and Sondheim a few times during the first training session, only to be met with nervous laughter and uncomprehending stares. I did make one friend though: a fellow trainee thought she recognised the references and stayed behind when everybody else had logged off the video call to check and to have a chat. We've already become WhatsApp chums.
Years of box office work and a natural liking for people means that I love chatting to random strangers, sometimes at length, and that is something else that I am having to keep an eye on in my new position. There is a fairly rigid structure to the way that we're supposed to conduct calls and I am constantly fighting an urge to go off-piste and start talking about things irrelevant to the matter in hand ("oh! You live In Stratford-upon-Avon! I suppose you see everything by the RSC?" or "That's my surname too! Wouldn't it be amazing if we were related. Do you have any Cornish heritage that you're aware of?"). It's especially difficult if I'm on the espresso and the caller is friendly (which most of them are).
I am so used to signing off ticket booking calls with variations of on "I really hope you enjoy it", that on a couple of occasions recently I temporarily forgot what sort of work I was now doing, and found myself bellowing "have a lovely time!" down the phone at people who I'd just booked in for a potentially uncomfortable medical procedure. I must keep an eye on that, I don't want them to think I am totally insensitive or taking the mickey. Another one to watch is a tendency to refer to medical appointments as "performances", or to cheerily trill "ENJOY!", or worse still, "you're gonna LOVE IT!" at somebody who is going in for a necessary but deeply tedious consultation. Old habits die hard I'm afraid.
Still, I'm aware that I'm very lucky to have something to occupy the locked down days at home and of course to have some money coming in. Nevertheless, I'm still, along with every other theatre person I know, from box office to backstage to onstage, longing for the day that things theatrical get properly moving again: to resurrect that aforementioned Avenue Q quote, this whole challenging time is "...only for now", even though it doesn't always feel like it. We WILL get back to doing what we love. I've said it before and I won't apologise for saying it again: life without theatre is pretty crummy.
On a different note, does anybody have an ‘in' with the Secret Service...?!