Confessions of a Box Office Manager: Let's hear it for the front of house team
Our Box Office mole introduces us to their band of trusted colleagues
I love my team. I spend every day working with a really great bunch of people.
Do they wind me up from time to time? Oh yeah.
Do some of them have occasional moments of such raging eccentricity that my only options are either give them a quick hug or retreat into the back office for a silent scream? Absolutely.
But...I have friends elsewhere who have no interest in their colleagues' "real" lives, and little connection when they're in the office. They're okay with that but it wouldn't get me out of bed in the morning. We celebrate each other's birthdays, commiserate and commemorate each other's life events, provide support when a colleague is having a tough time and share the same (warped) sense of humour...
The lure of the theatre is immense (you don't need me to tell you that, you're reading WhatsOnStage) but it can be difficult to sustain working in it. You sometimes find yourself looking at friends from school or uni who chose different paths and seem to be thriving financially in a way that is eluding you.
Theatre workers tend to be a bit, well, different. We opt to work unsociable hours and over holiday periods for inferior pay and in the kind of conditions that would have your average City worker wretching into their designer bag.
Try taking in a busy matinee house when the mini-table your ticket printer was perched on has collapsed for the fourth time in twenty minutes so you're reduced to disappearing from view and scrabbling about on the floor every time somebody buys a seat. "Do ignore the smattering of rat poo on your premium ticket, Madam. Can I offer you a complimentary squirt of hand sanitiser? I would if I were you."
Or running up five flights of stairs to use the GM's laser printer because the box office one has jammed yet again, and a producer's representative is eyeballing you through the window and wants her figures, like, five minutes ago...
Yet there is a camaraderie and a shared love of theatre as art form and industry that makes it worthwhile.
People are key and you just never know who might be handing over your tickets or selling you a programme. The volume of talent sitting in those little boxes or behind those ill-lit desks doling out tickets for today's show, is staggering. That's true of ushers and bartenders as well. I know dancers in long-running musicals who pre-learnt all the steps to the audition for their current show by working front-of-house on it for months and watching keenly when the big company numbers kicked in.
My current bunch are a lovely crew, (these are not necessarily their real names):
There's Maureen, who has Seen It All (and is always happy to tell you about it). Past retirement age but still ridiculously glamorous ("I'll stop making an effort when I die, darling!"), Maureen relishes coming in to work as it gets her away from her husband who she loves dearly while cheerfully admitting that she would probably lamp him if they were cooped up together 24-7 in their tiny housing association flat in Covent Garden. Maureen can steamroller even the most difficult customers into submission with a combination of camp charisma, authentic love of humanity, and the rock-solid belief that she is in the right. (She usually is).
Recent graduate Karen did an English degree but doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She came to us from six months employed in an absolute hell hole under an abusive boss who makes Attila the Hun sound like a reasonable guy. Accordingly, Karen loves it here but takes even the smallest bit of guidance personally, as well you might if you'd just spent half a year working with a bloke who kept telling you to breathe more quietly. Still, we love her and so do the customers.
With his masters degree in nuclear physics, or something equally intimidating, from the University of Krakow (his native city), Pawel could be terrifying if he wasn't so damn funny. He only comes in on a casual basis on Saturdays as during the week he works in a laboratory as a research assistant in something I can't even pronounce. ("London is so expensive, man. Brains don't pay.") It was hard to watch recently when he made a tiny error and was sneeringly dismissed by some ghastly Home Counties matron with the words "Y'see, this is why you are ONLY a box office clerk!" If she only knew...
Polly is a classically trained actress, and a damn good one – I know this because every time she gets a job we go and support her; there isn't a pub theatre within the M25 that I haven't seen the inside of – just waiting for that Big Break. She deserves it; she's a luminous talent and a kind soul. Several of her drama school contemporaries have gone on to seriously big things and, without technically name-dropping, Pol can hijack an entire conversation about pop celebrity culture with a casual "Oh I slept with him in college. Very selfish in bed." She was unceremoniously dumped a few years ago by somebody who is now globally famous, and she follows his international career with an amusedly detached eye and commendable lack of bitterness. I'd love to tell you who he is, but no...
The drama queen in the group – although we all have our moments – is musical theatre graduate Mykal. Mega-enthusiastic, sassy, and hilarious, he operates on an energy level that makes me want to lie down. He never sits, and deals with patrons while standing in balletic fifth position. (I can always tell if he's getting stressed as he starts to slowly plié while talking to his customer.) His dream job is The Lion King and every time they recast he gets a little further along the audition process. This year saw a particularly histrionic wailing meltdown when he didn't get in though: "When they first started seeing me I was a Simba but now I'm more of a Mufasa. Oh God, what if by the time they see me again I'm only fit to play a HYENA! Oh God!" As I said, bit of a drama queen. His motto? "I bet Todrick Hall never had to put up with THIS!"
Todrick never had a Maureen to back him up though. Just yesterday, Mykal got into a pickle with a customer trying to purchase one ticket using a combination of three payment methods: SOLT tokens, cash and card. It's complicated, not impossible, but the patron was getting snappy and impatient with Mykal, who by this stage was plié-ing almost down to floor level. Observing that, Maureen finished up with her customer, sauntered over, and took over the transaction without belittling her colleague. You just can't beat teamwork. The look of gratitude on Mykal's face was a joy to see. The tricky patron left with the seat they wanted, the correct change and a smile on their face. And, hey, nobody died.