Confessions of a Box Office Manager: When stifling heat and sing-a-long audiences collide

This month our mole has been dealing with loud audiences in a very hot office

Confessions of a Box Office Manager
Confessions of a Box Office Manager

Midweek matinee interval. It's hotter than Satan's armpit outside. In here, it's the same, but windier. No, I haven't been for another high fibre lunch, it's just that senior management – realising that the box office staff were on the point of mutiny, led by yours truly – have installed temporary industrial-sized fans for us, since apparently air con in the foyer is in NEXT year's restoration budget. I pointed out in a HOD meeting that we in the box are more affected than other areas of the theatre as they are at least 'air-cooled', and that by next year I might have lost most of my staff, either because they've been forced to seek employment in a more comfortable environment, such as a sauna or an abattoir, or because they have expired due to heat stroke. That went down well.

These fans are doing nothing whatsoever to combat the heat however, although they are moving the fiery air around at high speed, along with any pieces of paper that aren't pinned down. We are all pretty fed up, and difficult or notably obtuse customers are being given very short shrift. This is not a day to be asking me more than once what a ‘stall' might be, or where is the best place in the vicinity to obtain gluten-free tempura. ("It HAS to be gluten-free because if it isn't I will come back here and I cannot be responsible for what will happen to your seating! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!")

So, yes it's interval time: I am engaged in my preferred heatwave activities, namely counting the drips of sweat falling down my back and gazing balefully at my unappealingly damp-looking T-zone reflected in the glass opposite, when the doors spring open and out they all charge. The smokers head for the external doors, the drinkers for the bars and the ones with more money than sense for the souvenir kiosk, all ferociously fanning themselves with their programmes as though that is actually going to help.

One nice lady stops and stares at me. "Ooh innit hot?" she says, "But it's nice and cool watching the show. I don't know how you cope with this out here, really I don't."

I smile as non-committally as possible: "Oh it's not too bad once you get used to it" I gurgle back at here, through a veil of dripping moisture. I feel like an exhibit in a zoo. She laughs hysterically (OK, she's not actually nice is she) and wanders off waving her programme about as though directing traffic.

Another lady approaches my window. "Hello, how can I help?" I ask her, silently praying that whatever she wants will not involve me having to physically move in any way: my work-shirt is completely stuck to me and, while I can just about get away with it while sitting still, the clinginess and sweat patches become embarrassingly apparent when I am forced to move. Furthermore, I haven't been to the gym in months, so my torso with a sodden chemise plastered to it is currently less Mr Darcy and more Mr Blobby. Not nice for anybody.

"Yes I'd like to talk to somebody please," (Oh dear, here we go…)

"Sure! Talk to me, I'm the box office manager!"

"About the singing. It's terrible."

"Oh well, I know there are a couple of understudies on," (funny how so many cast members are magically 'indisposed' on one of the hottest days of the year so far) "and even some second covers, but I've heard them rehearsing and I think the voices are actually spec-"

I am halted by the fact that she is staring at me as though I'm burbling like a madman which, to be fair, I probably am. Blame the heat.

"I'm not talking about the singing from the STAGE!" she thunders, with a look of disbelief, "I'm talking about the singing from the people behind me."

I blink at her, and some sweat runs into my eye. I feel so in charge right now. "Oh, er, I'm sorry. I misunderstood. So… there's somebody sitting behind you singing along is there?"

"Well, if you can call THAT singing" she rejoinders mirthlessly, "and it's more than one of them, there's a whole bally TRIBE of them carrying on. Most distracting, I've tried shushing them but one of them told me I was a stuck-up old cow, and that they would 'See me later', whatever THAT is supposed to mean."

"Oh I am sorry to hear this. Can I ask exactly where you're sitting? I will ask some of my front-of-house colleagues to have a word with them. I can also move you elsewhere if you like as we do have a number of spaces available." ('A number of spaces?!'…you could land a small plane in there today without casualties.)

I ascertain that this lady is sitting in row M and I move her and her companion forward to a better location in G row, which puts a safe distance between her and the would-be choristers in row N. Now I need to contact the house manager and possibly security as, while the singing along is distracting and annoying, it is entirely unacceptable for the crooners to be verbally threatening other audience members who are less than enamoured with their vocal talents. The security guards are currently arguing the toss with a woman trying to exit into the street with a full bottle of open wine in her grip, so I'll try them as a last resort. Getting a manager in full evening suit, however sweaty, down to the stalls usually does the trick. I can't see Max the duty manager anywhere in the foyer though. He might be up in his office, lying down in the air conditioning, the bastard. Actually I'm probably doing him a grave disservice. Again, the heat! So, I'll try him on the radio…

Damn, I left the walkie-talkie in the back office which will involve actually getting up from my seat. I have a moment of irrational, heat-induced temper, thinking "I should have staff to do this for me" and then I remember that yes, yes I DO have staff. Unfortunately, two of them are on holiday, one's at lunch, another is on a compassionate leave day, so that means that my only assistance is relative newcomer Naomi, who is pleasant but stroppy, and seems to regard being asked to do anything as a bit of an infringement of her human rights. Naomi (whose name is I Moan backwards, and what a coincidence that has proved to be) is currently standing over one of the fans in her flappy skirt, threatening to re-enact the full Marilyn Seven Year Itch air vent moment, and assiduously avoiding eye contact. I should chide her for her unprofessionalism really but right now I'm mainly envious of her skirt.

I am about to get up when an elderly couple appear at my window, both sweating profusely (well actually, who isn't, apart from Imoan, I mean Naomi).

"Sorry to bother you young man," (crikey, I feel anything but young today) "but I wonder if you could help us?"

"Of course I will, if I can. It's what I'm HERE FOR!" I yell, giving the oblivious Imoan the side-eye.

This lovely couple look a little surprised at the force of my reply but plough on regardless: "Well, we are in row M in the stalls, super seats by the way, but there's a little group of people behind us who…"

"They're singing aren't they? Have they threatened you as well?" I can't seem to stop myself. This heat!

They look taken aback. "No, nobody has threatened us, but yes we could live without the singing. We didn't pay to hear them. We came to watch the show."

"Of course you did. Right, I am going to move you forward to some even better seats. How's that? And then, and then… I'm going to tell the manager and we will arrange to have them taken around the back of the theatre and shot."

I wait for them to laugh but instead their eyes widen askance and it occurs to me that the sight of a puce, damp-faced, even damper-armpitted theatre employee, issuing death threats to their fellow audience members, is probably alarming rather than amusing. I laugh to show I'm kidding, and they join in, albeit uncertainly. I give them their new seat numbers and the gentleman extends a clammy hand across the counter for me to shake. I do so enthusiastically, largely because mine is way clammier. That'll teach him.

After several futile attempts to get hold of the duty manager he finally appears just as the final warning bells are sounding, to get the damp masses back to their seats ready for the second half. It turns out that, far from skiving, poor Max had been dealing with a crisis in the dress circle bar where the ice machine had stopped working. There won't be a clean tea towel in the place. What a day for that to happen!

He goes off to have a word with the offending singers, taking one of the burlier security guards with him as back-up. This is probably a wise move, given how short tempers are in these sweltering temperatures (and I include my own temper in that).

The rest of the afternoon is comparatively peaceful, in a tropical sort of way, and no further complaints about appalling singing, on or off stage, are logged. Naomi finally got my passive-aggressive hints (it's too hot to be properly aggressive, OK?) and pulled her weight magnificently for the rest of the day, that pleasant couple I traumatised enjoyed the rest of the matinee from premium seats and I got to use the backstage showers between shows. Of course I was just as sweat-challenged as earlier by the time the evening performances started but, hey, nobody died.