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The Wild West Of House Managing: Tales From The Sheriff Of The Stage

I wasn’t Wyatt Earp but I was close. I stood there in my black shirt with cow skulls on it surveying the empty lobby in front of me. In twenty minutes this lobby, the front of house would be packed with people coming to see this performance. I never wanted to be the house manager, I just signed up to usher for all the nights of the show. The box office manager, Midge, threw me the name badge and a clipboard and said the three words that still fill me with dread, “It’s all you.” This lobby was the Wild West and I was the sheriff. And thus began one of the most interesting weeks in my life.

Cue Western Music. This is gonna get messy folks.

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Showdown One: The Ushers

In five minutes my ushers/deputies came in. It was a ragtag group. One of them was wearing a tank top and shorts and looked like he just got done pumping iron. The other two were a duo of BFF girls who wouldn’t stop talking to each other. The clipboard had a rundown of rules that I was supposed to give the ushers as a pep talk. “Hand out the programs, don’t let anyone talk or use their cell phone, no food or drink, etc.” I could already see their eyes glaze over as I was talking to them. I had to ask, “What?”

“No one cares about that,” one of the duos said, “We just hand out the programs and sit down.”

“But then why did you sign up to be an usher?” I asked.

All of them replied in unison. “To get extra credit in Dr. Strong’s* class.”

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the foolish

It was then that I felt myself swallow hard. The clipboard may have spelled out the laws of this land, but I was going to be the only one enforcing them. I assigned the extra credit seekers to each door. In two more minutes the doors opened and a steady stream of students filed in. I started to make my rounds and look for lawbreakers. And speaking of extra credit seekers…

Showdown Two: The Programs

The first little incident I was forced to deal with were students that didn’t have a ticket. They didn’t even intend to see the show. It was a small mob of people all of whom just wanted to grab a copy of the program and walk out. I asked them why they were there and one of the duos that I assigned the door came up and handed them a stack of programs. I stopped her.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You need a program to turn in along with your paper to Dr. Strong’s class.” she rolled her eyes at me as if she was telling me the sky was blue.

“But how will they know anything about the play to write about it?” I asked.

“Because we’re gonna take notes for them, duh.” She rolled her eyes one more time and then walked away.”

Showdown Three: The Vending Machines

I was about to follow her and give her a piece of my mind but then a gaggle of people walked past me carrying chips and soda into the theatre. I ran ahead to block the door.

“I’m sorry, guys, but we don’t allow outside food or drink.” I stood there barring the door. They looked at me like I was crazy.

“It’s not from outside, bro, it’s from right here in the building.” and he pointed me to the soda and snack machine sitting in the vestibule with a line of playgoers waiting their turn. I stood there and made them throw all of their food away as they cussed me out every which way from Sunday. The line of people that just came from the soda machine also had some very choice words for me. But they were going to thank me. This was the theatre and the rules were going to be obeyed!

Showdown Four: The Dean’s Wife

The show had started. A recorded voice told everyone where the fire exits were, warned them to turn off their cellphones, and let them know that there would be no flash photography. The minute that the first actor walked onstage his mom stood up in her seat and started taking a million photos of him with the oldest camera with the biggest flash I’d ever seen. Her poor son was trying to get through his lines while his own Momma was trying to blind him. I rushed over to her and told her to stop, wading through an ocean of people texting their significant others in their seats. She huffed out of the theatre and I followed her.

“I’m sorry but flash photography isn’t allowed”

“Do you know who I am?” She asked.

“Who?” I was at a loss.

“I’m Dr. Faraday and my husband is the dean. I can get you in trouble.”

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This was my high noon moment. I could see Midge, cowering in the box office. But I had had enough.

“Well, do you know who I am?” I asked her.

“Who?”

“I’m a kid that had a badge and a clipboard thrown at me that says I’m the house manager. And there are rules here on this clipboard that I’m supposed to follow and I’m going to. So report me to the dean if you have to but don’t flash that bulb again or I’ll throw you out of here.”

She must have seen the look in my eyes because she backed off. I took off my badge and went over to Midge’s desk. I threw the clipboard on her desk and told her I quit. She smiled at me and told me the sentence that changed everything.

“What if I made House Managing count for all of your scholarship requirements. You wouldn’t have to work backstage ever again.”

And suddenly the gig didn’t seem so bad after all…

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And so I stayed for two years. I recruited some good ushers before I graduated, made a fake “Out of Order” sign for the vending machines. I didn’t win all the battles, but I found my backbone. I also have a healthy appreciation for ushers and all that they go through. It’s a tough job but somebody has got to do it.

Have some house managing tales of your own? Leave a reply below, partner!

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