Confessions of a Box Office Manager: the producer's summer party
At a dreary seasonal shindig our West End mole is saved by his Favourite Actress Friend
Ugh, I hate pitching up at these things on my own.
It is our producer's summer party: the entire production office, marketing bods, theatre personnel and assorted hangers-on from all of this company's West End shows gather in an oppressively hot private room beneath a members club to backslap, brag, shove as many canapés down their throats as is humanly possible, and attempt to drink the bar dry before the cast members arrive after their curtains come down.
You're probably thinking "what's not to love?! Who doesn't enjoy posh finger food?!" My problem is that, presumably in an attempt to cut costs, the producers have elected not to invite the entire box office; just me, not even my deputy. I felt a bit awkward about it as they all - well, almost all - work so hard and I was going to boycott it in solidarity with my affronted colleagues. However the general manager of the theatre made it clear that for me not to turn up would be A Very Bad Idea, especially in the light of the fact that she would be away at her holiday home in Tuscany, the house manager was doing double shifts so had a perfect excuse to go straight home, and so no other member of our theatre management would be in attendance.
Two of the other BOMs that work on shows for this producer are also away on holiday, and the only other one I know flatly refused to come, despite my offering to buy him copious amounts of alcohol. (From the free bar. I'm not a complete mug.)
Well actually maybe I am, because here I am forlornly quaffing white wine and trying to look inconspicuous as I follow the canapé bearer around the sparsely filled room. I've done the obligatory small talk with the producers (who are actually lovely people, being fair) where we've discussed why various ticket offers didn't work, if doing a nine show week at Christmas is a good idea (don't get me started) and any holiday plans ("you haven't managed to get away yet?! Oh you poor darling. We've had a month in the Dordogne. I know! I HAVE got a good colour haven't I?! Hurrah!"). Plus I've been blanked by the Fabulous Clique from the marketing company. Standard. There are people in both the production and marketing teams that I adore and would happily spend an evening in the company of, but they haven't turned up yet. Or they, y'know, can't be arsed.
I'm just cheering myself up by imagining our general manager's Tuscany home being invaded by a pack of wild Italian boar or at the very least a particularly deafening opera chorus straight out of Verdi at his most strident, when I lock eyes with 'Carole' (not her real name, but then you never know if you're talking to her real face either) who is one of the leading lights in West End marketing. I know this as she has drunkenly told me on at least four occasions at different events, all the while manically scanning the room behind me in case there was somebody more influential/fabulous/sexy to talk to. I haven't worked with her much but on one of the few occasions where I did she made a monumental cock-up and then tried to blame it on the box office when the inevitable hit the fan. She immediately looks away and starts fiddling with her mobile, clearly deciding that I'm not worth bothering with, even in a room as under-populated as this one.
Now, it's probably the wine - well no I mean, it definitely IS the wine - but I suddenly think "actually, no, you DO know me and you ARE going to talk to me" and before I know it I've launched myself across the room at Carole and I am giving it The Full Vivacious....
"Hey Carole! How ARE you? Great to see you!" I decide to go for the full bear hug - in for a penny, in for a pound - and it is like embracing an ironing board, one that is in the process of having a nasty shock but still has the social nous to do air kisses.
"Oh, er, hi? Yes, hi. I'm great, really great. But I'm so busy, yeah? Like, totally totally busy."
"Yes, I can imagine." (I can't really, mentally I'm still in Tuscany with the rampaging boars) "Anything exciting to report? What's coming up?"
"Oh babe. There are SO many things. Really really exciting things. But obviously I can't tell YOU about any of them. You'll just have to wait for the press releases. Lol." Yes, she just said 'lol' as a word. Not only did she patronise the crap out of me, she just lol-ed in my face.
"Well, that's something to look forward to" I mumble unenthusiastically.
"Oh yah. Absolu-MENT. Ooh look my glass is empty. Laters."
And off she sashays. I don't think we'll ever be close.
I chat to a couple of other people, actually having a rather nice time, and am about to call it a night when I feel a pair of arms encircle my waist, and somebody snuggling into my back.
"Well, fancy seeing you here" breathes a comfortingly familiar voice.
I turn round and find myself staring into the huge brown eyes of Favourite Actress Friend. I could almost explode with joy. Again, that may partly be the wine. Don't judge me.
Favourite Actress Friend and I became close years ago when I worked in the box office of a disastrous show that she was appearing in, and we have stayed in contact ever since. She is a gem, as beautiful of soul as she is of face, and a major talent. Since we met she has graduated to full leading lady status, been nominated for Oliviers and WOS awards, and been on the telly... I don't necessarily think being friends with me helped her achieve all this, but it does make you think doesn't it? No?! Oh well.
"What are YOU doing here?" I yell into her hair, having gone for the full bear hug and this time having it reciprocated in full.
"My agent invited me. Been trying to text you to see if you were coming but I guess you haven't picked up the messages due to this place being underground. God it's good to see you."
"Oh, you have NO idea" I reply, trying not to get weepy (the wine!).
The rest of the night turns out be rather wonderful and I finally call it a night a little before midnight. I am just following Favourite Actress Friend up the stairs to go and get our cab when somebody taps me on the shoulder. I turn and it's Carole, wth an entirely unfamiliar expression on her face. Oh wait, she's smiling. Crikey.
"Hey babe" she gushes, giving me a great big smacker, no air kisses this time, "I didn't know you were friends with her."
"Oh!! With... yes, we have been mates for years."
"But she's... amazing".
"Yes I know."
"Isn't that great?"
"Yes it is."
"So are you two off somewhere now? Can I...?"
"Oh NO. Straight home for us." (Uh-oh she's probably going to think we co-habit or something now. Well, let her. Maybe she'll start responding to my emails from now on.)
"So... Goodnight" she breathes, looking a bit put out.
"Goodnight Carole. Safe journey home." I turn to leave.
"Shall we do lunch?" she says. I turn back, in slight disbelief. This woman wouldn't have urinated on me if I was on fire just three hours ago.
"Um, yes I guess so..."
"Gorgeous! I'll email you. First thing Monday. Maybe you can bring..."
"Er, possibly..." (over my dead body)
"Wonderful! A toute à l'heure! Bon soir!" Pretentious cow. I run up the stairs as though I'm being chased.
And that's the producer's summer party over with for another year. It may have ended up being more fun than I initially expected but at least I can still go back and tell my box office team that they didn't miss much. I wonder if any of them fancy going for lunch with Carole? But hey, nobody died.