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Kindness and cancellations – it's always worth remembering who's on the other end of the line

COO Sita McIntosh reflects on audience responses to rescheduled or postponed shows

Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Saunders
© Matthew Murphy and Oliver Rosser

This isn't the sort of post that we normally publish at WhatsOnStage, but on behalf of venues and ticketeers across the UK, we thought we would use our platform for a different kind of good and make an appeal to the general public.

Ticketing staff are very realistic people – we know that because a quick count in WOS towers totals almost 70 years of direct experience in that field within the current team, ranging from (in more conventional times) the face behind the perspex screen in a broom cupboard (that also doubles as a box office) to the faceless voice at the end of the telephone in a call centre, routinely and methodically processing orders for tickets over and over again in an eight hour shift . The vast majority of these staff that we have had the privilege to work with over those seven decades are unbelievably loyal, hard-working and dedicated to live entertainment.

They are acutely aware that they do not save lives or tackle climate change and none of them would ever call themselves "key-workers". However they are a small division of the theatrical army that has endeavoured to keep theatre alive during the pandemic and keep customers happy despite the endless cancellations and rescheduling

There are those who may insist that such frivolity is unnecessary and unimportant during these hideous times. Equally there are those who would say that the delight that theatre, both live and online, has provided is a glorious distraction from the doom and gloom headlines. Full disclosure – we know where we sit in this debate and as ever, we're championing theatre in all its forms.

Since August 2020 live theatre has started then stopped, started then stopped and rinse/repeat so many times we've almost lost count – all in a safe, COVID-secure manner. Shows have been postponed and cancelled multiple times in some cases as venues and producers frantically try to rearrange cast and creatives around the availability of absolutely everyone. Sometimes that's simply not possible – for reasons that we're not always privy to, it might simply not work out and, when that happens, the box office becomes the front line.

David Tennant
© Georgia Tennant

Over the last year we have seen some wonderful, generous responses to cancellations – patrons being polite, patient and a large number, where able, have offered to donate their ticket cost rather than ask for a refund. The care in the arts community can, and always should, go a long way.

Yesterday we broadcast the news that Sister Act the Musical has now been postponed to 2022 and when it does play unfortunately Whoopi Goldberg will no longer be in the show. We were also told that Good starring David Tennant has been postponed indefinitely. We're all gutted – genuinely gutted. Both shows have been inked into our collective diaries for almost two years and they had already been postponed once.

We completely understand that tickets may well have been booked to celebrate a huge personal occasion, possibly months in advance. We know that some people had booked hotel rooms, train tickets and even plane tickets. We are also painfully aware that we have all been cooped up for far too long for reasons beyond our control and, at times, we're not thinking as clearly as we once did.

What we want to say is, amongst all of that crushing disappointment and boredom, the person on the end of the phone or email letting you know that a show is not going ahead is not responsible. They are likely as gutted as you are and, faced with a mountain of enquiries and logistical acrobatics, are simply doing their best to make an irritating situation a little bit less irritating. Many will be doing this while alone at home, without a team to keep spirits high. To quote the t-shirt, in a world where you can be anything, be kind.

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