Working In Front-of-House

My first “proper” job – by which I mean I both got paid for it and did it for over a year – was as a front of house attendant in a theatre.  A 5-star theatre, let me add – I was a fancy attendant.

You might wonder what exactly a front-of-house attendant is. Well, whenever you’ve been to see a show, be it drama or comedy or saucy cabaret, you get those staffers who are there to rip your tickets, seat you, and tell you off for bringing glass into the auditorium. That was me. I had to wear a tie and I wore a shirt with a glow-in-the-dark cow on the sleeve. (There was only one size of shirt, so while it fit me and my 6’1” build, it did not fit any of my petite female colleagues. We were an odd-looking team.)

Working In Front-of-House

You might have looked at me and my glowing cow and think “that can’t be a very difficult job, can it?” and largely, you’d be right. It was partly because customers to a nice theatre are generally pleasant and know what the drill is – come to the show on time, have a nice time watching said show (all the while not recording it on your phone), and go home afterwards. You might have dropped a couple of sweetie wrappers, but that’s ok. We’ll clear that up for you – a 5-star theatre is here to wait on your needs, after all.

But, as those of you who have worked in customer service will know, some people are weird. During an interval, two front of house staff would stand either side of the stage: stage right, man the exit; stage left, sell ice cream. Both attendants ensured that nobody walked across the stage. You’d think the reasons would be obvious. I mean, you’re a customer, and customers don’t go on the stage. It might be convenient, because it’s a big empty stage where you can walk from one side of the room to the other, but it’s the performers that go on the stage.

Doesn’t matter. If you told someone they couldn’t walk across the stage, a select few would be outraged! “Why not?!” they’d demand. You’d come up with a (perfectly legitimate) answer such as “health and safety – you aren’t licensed to be on the stage”, a nicer way of saying “you might fall off” or “nobody paid to see you”.

Obviously, as a front of house attendant, you didn’t make the rules: you uphold them. You are a student in your first year of university with a part-time job. You initially think that everyone understands that, and that you wouldn’t ever have to prepare to argue with a customer why they shouldn’t be allowed on the stage. Who goes to a show and then complains that they can’t walk across the stage? You’d think there’d be that sense of conformity whereby you do what every other customer is doing. I’ll tell you now: I did a psychology degree, and that most definitely is a thing. Conformity is a powerful tool that makes people say and do things they wouldn’t normally say and do.

If you ever work in a theatre, then, you need to remember that some people have that bizarre sense of entitlement that means that they should be allowed in restricted areas like the stage. You have to remember that you can’t look at them in disbelief and say “what?” – no, you have to say “I’m sorry?” and smile. Then when they try and shove past you, you get to put the arm out and say “no”.

That’s when they realise that the glow-in-the-dark cow isn’t just a novelty – that’s authority.

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