A theatre box office is an interesting place. The hour before a performance is a frenzy of activity that includes handling the voice mail that has come in since the last time the office was open, selling walk-up tickets, printing will-call tickets, printing tickets for people whose printers ran out of ink or who forgot them at home or who didn’t realize that they had to print the tickets immediately even though there are instructions that say just that.
Those are the easy jobs. It’s pretty simple to make a theatregoer happy when you can reprint that ticket she left on the table near the front door.
But sometimes you have to do difficult jobs when you work in the box office. Sometimes you have to return phone calls and let someone down, because the show is sold out. Sometimes you have to turn people away who show up in person, hoping seats will open up. When the box office is part of a small theatre with no space for extra seating, you don’t get to be flexible there. But I can assure you that the box-office staff and the house manager do their best to find seats to accommodate people whenever possible.
I staffed the box office for 10 out of 12 weekend performances of a community-theatre production these past two weeks. And I did all those things I listed above, and then some. Most of the time it was enjoyable work. But it was Saturday’s final show that did me in.
The show was sold out, and we were able to scrape up a couple of tickets here and there (like when someone realized they really wanted two tickets to Sunday’s show instead of Saturday’s.) So on Friday night when I got a voicemail from someone’s dad with a sob story about how Grandma changed her hair appointment so she could see a show on Saturday that she didn’t even have a ticket for, I got to be the hero of the day. I didn’t have such great news for the mom who called wanting six tickets and telling me a long story about how her child was in the show and she hadn’t seen it yet and she’d promised her daughter that she could bring a bunch of friends but by the time they all got back to her, the show was sold out.
I had two tickets available at that point. The best I could do was to sell her those two tickets and put her on the waiting list for the other four.
At 8:30 Saturday morning that mom called to let me know she only needed three more tickets, and to ask if I had found any yet. I apologized, but promised that I’d put the word out among the moms helping in the green room and the moms selling candygrams and the mom scanning tickets at the door. If anyone heard that someone had a ticket they wouldn’t be using, they promised to send them to the box office.
I never did get those extra tickets. The dad, with Hair-Appointment Grandma in tow, picked up his ticket with a charming smile. Then No-Ticket Mom asked, and was disappointed, about those extra tickets. Suddenly that dad was back at the ticket window.
“Do you see that lady with the three little girls?” he demanded. “She’s going to have to leave here and take them home because there aren’t any tickets for them.”
I apologized (again) that no more tickets were available. I politely refused his request to have extra chairs brought in, and his subsequent demand that the three little girls stand in the aisle during the show. There’s no room for either of those things. But this guy was clearly used to having his own way and did not like hearing me tell him that what he wanted wasn’t going to happen.
It’s not fun to have to say no to someone who wants to watch their child/grandchild/friend perform. But in a small theatre, shows do sell out quickly, and everyone was reminded of this several times before the show opened. And we tried (as we do anytime a show sells out) to scare up extra tickets–we just couldn’t get enough.
Dad, Grandma, Mom and the little girls disappeared into the crowd. I was busy distributing tickets to other theatre patrons and feeling more than a little upset about the way I had been treated over the whole issue, when one of the staff members realized that the whole bunch of them had probably gone into the theatre, somehow making an end run around the person scanning tickets. The grin Dad flashed our way on his way out of the theatre confirmed our suspicions.
I was angry. I don’t like confrontation, and I’d had my fill of it already. I skipped out on the cast party, because I didn’t feel like I could stand there and schmooze with other kids’ parents with a smile on my face. What disturbs me even more is that those little girls were just taught that if someone says you can’t have what you want, you can just go ahead and take it.