Confessions of a Box Office Manager: Merchandise mayhem

Our Box Office mole reflects on having to sell all manner of paraphernalia at the box office

Box Office Manager
Box Office Manager

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! ROLL UP AND GET YA MERCH! Roll on up and get ya damn merchandise why don't you!?! Oh….you want to buy a ticket? Hang on, let me see if there's a member of staff who can help you with that outlandish demand…

Yes, dear friends and readers, we have been forced into selling show merchandise here in the box office. Believe me, I tried to block it when it was first mooted at the HOD meeting, and I was accused, perhaps not unfairly, of being "negative" and "lacking vision". Since when did our CEO turn into Oprah Winfrey?!

It's not that I am adverse to further lining the pockets of our multi-millionaire producers. Good God no. Nor is it that I don't care that the commission the theatre makes on sales will go towards the upkeep of the building (I thought that was what the restoration levy on each ticket was for but hey, what do I know). Nor even (although this may have some bearing on it if I'm honest) is it that I've tried on all sizes of show logo T-shirts they're getting us to wear, and I look either like a human pumpkin trying to find an escape route or a tragic waif unwillingly sporting a mini-dress, with zero acceptable "lewks" in between.

One of our clerks thinks of herself as a bit of a fashionista, and she's on holiday at the moment. She's going to have a seizure when she comes back to her new "uniform". On the other hand, it might discourage her from inviting so many of her super-cool chums in for impromptu visits. They're all called things like Basti (I'm assuming that's a diminutive of "Sebastian" rather than "Bastard" but I'm not sure) and Mimi, and they all work in "the media" although quite when they get any of this mysterious "work" done Gawd only knows, as they seem to spend most of their time hanging about in our foyer alternately staring at their phones or loudly telling La Fashionista that she is so much better than this job.

No, my biggest problem with this idea isn't an aesthetic one, it's that the show is a big fat hit and we are constantly run ragged in here as it is. My staff are a great bunch and I think it's unfair to up their workload at this point in time. I suggested the possibility of commission but that was met with a blank stare. Several blank stares actually. So I've been overruled, for the time being, and we are trialling this money-making exercise, sorry I mean "exciting expansion of box office services" (not my words) for a limited time. I gave the team a full, if unenthusiastic, briefing and was met with a range of facial expressions that ran the full gamut from "recently been told that my dog's been run over" to "somebody just puked on my best shoes". This is gonna be a fun month.

You can't tell from the garish, glittering new wall displays in here which are the ticket prices and what are the costs of those must-have items. That has already confused a few visitors.

So far we've had one run-in with a lady who thinks that the X-large size of T-shirt was "demeaning" (she didn't say why) and another who demanded if the show logo on the baseball caps was "actual appliqué or just some iron-on crap". Then there was the astonishingly pugnacious gentleman who was demanding a guarantee that the cast on the CD he had just purchased was the EXACT SAME ONE, person for person, that he would be seeing when he comes to the show on Tuesday. My weary, yet ambiguous, cry of "See You Next Tuesday" as he stomped off fell on bolshy but uncomprehending ears.

My enthusiasm for show merchandise is geographical. As I work in the theatre industry in London I occasionally invest in a programme and that's it. But put me 5000km away across the Atlantic, say, in the vicinity of Times Square, and I'm like "take my money! Take ALL of my money!" That $70 hoodie (which probably cost $5 to make and will almost certainly fall apart after five washes)? I love it, I want it, give it to me. That $30 souvenir 'book'? Yes ma'am. $15 for a fridge magnet? Be rude not to. And that $50 (probably non-flame retardant) dog chew shaped like the leading lady? OMG WANT! Haven't actually got a dog: no matter I will chew on it myself. Just pop it into this Broadway tote bag I paid $15 for and which is identical, apart from the logo, to all the free ones I get when I go to a marketing launch at home. So, yes, I do get the appeal. My credit card company certainly does.

Anyway, rant over. I'm basically covering myself here in case it takes a little longer to buy your actual tickets from us here at the actual box office over the next month. Actually. Also, I'm slightly kicking myself that I sarcastically suggested, at the HOD meeting, that we all got trained up as baristas as well so that we could offer customers a cheeky latte and an overpriced pastry before they left the box office armed with all manner of show-related goodies. (And tickets. Possibly.) Oprah the CEO doesn't really "do" sarcasm.

Hopefully, normal service will be resumed shortly, either that or we have some sort of collective box office epiphany and realise that selling T-shirts and fridge magnets is truly our vocation. Something tells me I'm going to be spending as much time as possible in the back office, squeezed into my medium Tee and with a face that could curdle milk. Trying times but, hey, nobody died.