Confessions of a Box Office Manager: the day of the Diva
On what should be a low-key Sunday at the theatre, our West End mole comes face-to-face with a diva
We've got a Sunday hire. The theatre has been taken over, for two sequinned performances only, by hordes of tap dancing pre-teen moppets from one of the more affluent enclaves of the Home Counties. Also their mums, most of whom resemble a cross between Gypsy's Mama Rose and Sibyil Fawlty. And their teachers, who look like less cuddly versions of the moppet's mothers. Yikes.
There are more fun ways to spend Sunday, but we get paid triple time and two box office personnel are only required to be on hand "in case something goes wrong". The dance school hiring us have already had the physical tickets for the entire house (I spent a very dull morning last week printing them off) and allocated them out themselves, so I'll only be needed to run off duplicates as required, that sort of thing.
I am full of positivity as I stride round from stage door, trying to avoid the tiny yet aggressive tappers in every spare corridor space banging out (with their feet) "Lullaby Of Broadway" and other show tunes, bellowing at each other over the sound of metal hitting concrete: "No, it's definitely like this!" "No it wasn't! It goes like THIS!" I'm amazed they haven't all got headaches or indeed broken ankles, the volume is horrific and those floors are HARD.
I gulp a bit when I enter the foyer and see that it has been invaded by half a dozen ladies from the school, busily setting up a souvenir stall at one box office window, and taping signs over everything else. It's already packed in there so I'm not quite sure where myself and Tim, the other clerk, are going to stand. One of the ladies walks towards me, her hand outstretched, a vision in Laura Ashley rose-print and in a cloud of expensive scent (is that geranium?)... the overall effect is of being advanced upon by a moving flower stall, albeit an extremely upmarket one.
"I'm Gloria the treasurer. We spoke on the telephone."
I take her hand and almost curtsy, but just stop myself.
"Lovely to meet you, have you got everything you need?"
"Yes. I've a few notes for you. Shall we...?" ...and with the outstretch of a manicured hand, she invites me into my own office. Well, she's paying, or rather her school is, so I guess that makes me her minion for the afternoon.
The list of instructions isn't that bad and most importantly she has provided us with her mobile number, in case anything comes up and we need to make contact when she's not in the vicinity. I get a frisson of excitement when I notice that the patron of the school, a major musical star, is coming to present some prizes but Gloria quickly puts the kibosh on that.
"She doesn't want any fuss, she's coming in through stage door just for the end of the show. You'll be long gone by then."
Ah well, never mind. Just think of the triple pay.
The incoming for the show is uneventful but uncomfortable. It feels like Tim and I are taking part in a challenge to see how many floral-clad, scented ladies can be crammed into a tiny space. We are squished into a corner like spare parts while the Grande Dames enthusiastically greet their chums, and cluck over each other's frocks/accessories/offspring/hair, and we occasionally print off some replacement tickets.
The show starts (we know this because it sounds like there's a mass shooting in the auditorium, but in fact it's the noise of hundreds of enthused tots recreating the opening number from 42nd Street), then Gloria and her floral cohorts drift off to watch their offspring create theatrical magic.
Tim and I are in no rush to leave so we decide to enjoy the calm, open a bottle of wine and get everything set up for Monday morning. We chat for about twenty minutes then get on with the work. We are just in the process of taking down some of Gloria's signs when She arrives. You know. Her. The musical star who, according to Gloria, is coming in via stage door just to perform her prize giving duties.
So...what the heck is she doing at my box office then, barking her name at me (like I didn't know who she was) and giving me a look that might most positively be described as frosty. Tim looks as though he might pass out.
"Um, should I have a ticket for you?" I ask.
"Yes. I'm a patron."
"Ah right, I thought you were coming later and not watching the show?" I rifle through the couple of uncollected tickets we have and look imploringly at the PA she has with her, a woman with the wide-eyed stare and cowering demeanour of someone who takes verbal abuse on a regular basis.
She goes to open her mouth but the diva talks across her "this is unbelievable."
"Bear with me a moment" I take out my mobile and dial Gloria. It goes straight to voicemail. Of course it does, she's inside watching the show. Meanwhile the diva's manicured fingers are drumming on the counter, and a tomato-red Tim would be deep breathing into a paper bag if only we had one.
Finally the PA pipes up: "have you at least got a seat so we can get her in?"
I make an executive decision. There's an uncollected ticket for an aisle seat at the back of the stalls. It's a long way back but at least she can get in and out easily from there. I hand it over.
"Since we can't seem to contact Gloria...how's this? It's not the best of seats but at least you'll be in?"
She snatches the ticket, sneers – actually sneers – opens her fingers, and lets it drop. "We'll wait".
Tim, the PA and I forlornly watch the ticket spiral back down onto the counter.
"Tim" I say, "Would you mind going in and seeing if you can find Gloria?"
Off he goes – running – and I smile at the diva who returns my look expressionlessly while the PA stands next to her, twitching tragically.
After what feels like an hour but is probably only five minutes, Gloria and Tim emerge from the auditorium.
"Darliiiiiing!" trills Gloria, arms outstretched.
"Look at YOU!" bellows the diva, a different woman from the one I've just been dealing with, "you are GORGEOUS!"
"Oh stop it! Now let's get you in, honey" and with that, Gloria and the diva disappear back in the direction of the show, leaving the PA standing vacantly in the foyer. I feel like asking her if she needs a hug but she turns on her heel and escapes into the night.
"What the hell just happened?" asks Tim.
We pack up and leave. I'm actually going home to have a ceremonial burning of all the diva's CDs. Well, not really but I'm unlikely to listen to them any time soon without coming out in hives. Tim has sworn to never see her in another show again, the PA is hopefully several martinis down in a bar somewhere if she's any sense, and I am seriously wondering if it was worth it for triple pay. But hey, nobody died.