The Show Must Go on
On April 14, 2007, I took my final bow after a ten-year career as a theater manager. As I walked out of the building, which became my second home rather than my place of employment, I dared not look back in fear of busting into tears and running screaming back into the building. I had become attached to my co-workers and some of the clients. As melancholy as I felt at that moment, I know that it was time to move on. As I sat in the back of a black luxurious town car one of my rewards from my employer for years of “good service”, I looked out on the black blue sky and remembered something that my late father had said to me. He said, “No matter what you choose to do in life, make sure that you go out with your boots on.”
Theater life was not always easy or fair, something I now recognize; when I started out as an usher, I was much younger and dumbfounded. The people, the performance, and the energy delighted me. When you’re young and have stars in your eyes its hard to comprehend that the life presented on stage isn’t real, but just acting; it’s when the lights go out that real life begins; some times I struggled to separate the two. It was thrilling to brag to friends and family about the legendary people I encountered each day; I was beyond star struck.
I craved going to work each day; for the first two years, I worked hard never arriving late and only calling in sick once; and for that, I was promoted to House Manger. In my ignorant thinking I somehow thought that this position made me an important person. It took me many years to discover how burdensome my life as a Theater House Manager would become and that it is behind the curtain before the audience arrived that the real drama played out.
I was employed at what some people described as a road house (rental theater); the staff was made up of office administrative workers, box office personal, the crew (the stage hands), concessions, and finally the ushers and managers ( the house staff). Our mission statement was that our door of two main stage theater’s capacity 918 & 262 was open to all artist and cultural expressions. The very survival of our theater was dependent upon rental clients. I dare not go into the many tales of each experience most, of them were good, and the bad let’s just say that on those days, I wished I had stayed in bed.
The day that I was promoted they shook my hand, patted me on my back and smiled. I had no idea the ride that I was in for; no one told me that the manager was the first to arrive and the last to leave; nor was I warned about the game, blame the manager.
The manager was to bare the burden for whatever went wrong regardless of whether it was his or her fault; it was explained to me by my artist director in this way, “You’re the manager and that’s just the way things go.” There is no real job description to define what a theater manager duties are because there are so many; tasks are added on the longer you stay in the position. Everyone depends on you for answers and conflict resolution.
Let’s look at the business side there are rules with running a rental theater; rules of safety, limitations, and restricting the clients of time and space. These guidelines are present and acknowledged by the client during the signing of the contract, however, on the day of the event all bets are off, and it is the manager’s job to be diplomatic when trying to enforce rules; while keeping the client from having a nervous breakdown because they feel that I’m ruining their show.
When the day go well this will consist of the staff arriving on time, the client is a smooth operator and agrees to make minor adjustments to stay within the contract guidelines. The house opens on time, the audience is pleasant, and at the end of the evening, the client is loaded out the door singing our praises of a job well done. The other side to a good day is when the day goes bad. This is when I have to switch gears going into full throttle, smile a lot, and remind the staff of the customer service motto. What is a manager to do when the crew, the box office, concession staff, and the client all come calling with problems that need to be solved now; of course no one wants to take a number and stand in line. It is at the end of such a day that I found myself at my favorite pub contemplating how I am going to do this again tomorrow.
This job affected the normal activity of my life. The grind of the long hour, the early morning, the late nights, office hours, and the constant problem solving drove me nuts. During my tenure as house manager, I was a full-time undergrad student, while working part-time as a college mentor and tutor. My social life went to the dogs. I missed every major family gathering I am ashamed to even say some funerals. Trying to have a relationship was out of the question; a man can only hear, no I have to go to work, no I have class, no I have to study, and no I have to sleep, but so many times before he cracked. The last ten years my best friends became my job, school, the library, the computer, and my bed.
Looking back, do I feel cheated? Yes and no. What that job provided me with was a descent salary, a benefit package, great co-workers, flexibility in my work schedule so that I could complete my degree. If I knew then what I know now would I have taken the job, yes. In that ten years I gained a great deal of knowledge on how to run a business, supervise a staff, multi task, how to balance time, and most of all how to give the best that I had to offer of myself in order to get the best outcome for all who were involved. I had my chance to run with the big boys and I survived; now I feel good about riding off in the sunset with my boots on.
What Say You?