The (Wo)Men in Black

Enter any theatre and nine times out of ten you will be greeted by smiling people in black attire, eager to give you tickets, programmes,  ice cream, directions to the nearest bar or toilet… But what is it really like being on a Front of House team?

For my course we are required to do one shift as Front of House at one of the on-campus theatre venues; however, wishing to expand my experience, I have volunteered to take on more shifts so I can get a real sense of the working environment and demands of such a role. It’s definitely not just about friendly faces and knowing the directions to the appropriate aisles. It can be an incredibly stressful place to be, dealing with patrons that can tend to be of a higher class, ensuring performers and directors are satisfied, and that the audience know nothing of the problems that may arise.

Box office systems are fantastic creations – all computerised, you can produce tickets for the current show, reprint lost tickets, and sell future performances. Databases are created for regular patrons, marketing questions can improve future campaigns, and card machines make life easy for those who don’t carry change in their pockets. However, for the person behind the desk it is not quite so easy. As I discovered last night, even when a show is apparently fully-booked, things can go awry. Various tickets remained uncollected with minutes before the performance was to begin, and so the process of releasing and reselling seats began. Simple enough in theory, but when faced with a queue of college students and less-than-impressed dance tutors, it can be a daunting moment. Worse still when the box office system refuses to comply to your fairly simple requests… but either way, it is still exhilarating to see so many eager people, willing to hang around in the desperate hope for a spare chair in the auditorium.

Similarly, pointing the way up some stairs appears to be an easy task.; stand in the doorway and gently guide people towards the auditorium. The challenge is when rules regarding food and drink are not complied with, or all-knowing guests wish to take another route to their seat. It all boils down to a calm exterior, an accepting nod of the head, and a quite word to the duty manager. All will be well, and the audience are none-the-wiser to the threatening storm that was narrowly escaped.

Of course, once the performance has begun, we lowly FOH staff are given the reward of watching the show for free, taking either the very back seats or perching in the gallery. For me, this makes all the stress of that pre-show hour worth it – last night I was treated to the phenomenal work of the James Wilton Dance Company, something I may never have considered seeing previously but would now recommend to anyone and everyone.

So next time you’re in the theatre, spare a thought for the people in black. We are generally a happy bunch, proud to be a part of the theatre team. But like any job, it can have its moments and times of incredible pressure. Give us a smile, a ‘thank you’, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Even if it’s just for the free seats.

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