Tales from the Box Office: What I’ve Learned Slinging Tickets

It’s no secret that successful theatre requires a large team of people, only a small fraction of which audiences will ever see. Aside from the performers, box office and front-of-house staff make up the most visible members of that team and are often the first people theatre-goers encounter. I’ve spent many an hour in a box office, both for my university’s theatre program and a professional regional theatre and in this blog, I’ll pull back the curtain, so to speak, on life in the box office and share a little of what I’ve learned from the world of front-of-house.

The [Rocky] Horror

Some of the most interesting days in box office land came when we produced The Rocky Horror Show. Anyone who’s ever done Rocky knows that it brings out the most…devoted of fans. We produced the show once every three years, and it was always an event when we did. Our theatre did a midnight show on Fridays and Saturdays, which meant we hosted some of the most raucous of fans, many of whom had already been enjoying some libations prior to arriving. Cleaning up vomit after the show became a nightly ritual (who’d have thought we’d go through that much baking soda?). The production was immersive, so at some points during the show the actors went down into the audience. We started a pool to see how many times Rocky would get groped by an audience member (seven, for anyone wondering).

What I learned: you can never have too much baking soda on hand. 

Box Office Sign

Here Comes the Bride!

Sometimes working in a box office means you get to facilitate a surprise proposal. During Rocky Horror, I fielded a call from a young man whose girlfriend was a huge fan of the show. He wanted to bring her to the show and spring a surprise proposal but had no idea how to go about it. I invited him to swing by the theatre so we could game plan. Fortunately, the day they were coming to the show happened to fall on her birthday, so we had a cover. We decided that we’d have the actor playing Eddie call her out during his pre-show speech and tell her to stop by our lobby merchandise table after the show for her “birthday gift”. During intermission, boyfriend excused himself to use the restroom and delivered the ring to me. After the show, boyfriend brought unsuspecting girlfriend to the lobby table, where I presented him with the “birthday surprise” aka the ring. Cue a proposal in front of twenty decked-out Rocky Horror fans and copious amounts of tears.

P.S: being responsible for someone else’s engagement ring for half an hour is more stressful than you might think…!

What I learned: nothing says romance like gender-bending space creatures.

When Technology Gives You Lemons…

One of my most…colorful days came courtesy of technology. We had put together a promotion designed to entice people who had bought tickets in years prior to come back and buy tickets to our current production, Spring Awakening. Usually this involves telling our mass emailing software to send an email to specific patrons. In this case, the idea was that we would use the software to identify patrons who had bought tickets before, but not within the past year, and send them an email letting them know they could receive a discount on tickets to our current production. Sounds good in theory. What actually happened was that the system emailed everyone. Literally, everyone who had ever bought a ticket to one of our shows got an email. Just saw our production of Spamalot? You get a discount! Literally just walked out of our showing of Barefoot in the Park. Discount! Needless to say, the phone started ringing. A lot. Since it was our error, we couldn’t very well go back on our offer. So, we honored the discount, fired our emailing software, and never attempted such a sophisticated discount again.

What I learned: technology is your friend until it isn’t.

Curiosity Killed the Cat

Sometimes kids come to the theatre. That’s great, we love kids! Sometimes many, many kids come to the theatre. This was never truer than when we produced The Cat in the Hat, complete with the mise-en-scene and spectacle of the original books. The show was a hit, and that meant a lot of excited and curious kiddos who wanted to know all about the magic and special effects. I remember one particularly enthusiastic young man asking me about how we made the fishbowl and books float in the air. I thought he was interested in how it was pulled off from a theatrical standpoint, so I enthusiastically told him all about the lighting tricks and wires that were used to achieve the effect. The poor kid looked like I’d just told him that reindeer can’t really fly. From then on, anytime anyone asked how special effect was accomplished, my answer was “magic”.

What I learned: don’t forget to take your theatre nerd hat off if the moment calls for it.

One of the things I love about working front-of-house is that every day offers something new. One day you’re cleaning vomit off a carpet, the next you’re planning a wedding. And, of course, I get to see some great theatre! So how does one get a job in the exciting world of theatre box offices? Identify theatres in your area and reach out! If nothing else, theatres are almost always looking for volunteers to help as ushers or ticket-takers, which can be a great way to get some experience. 

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