by Stephen Benson, Pantages Box Office Treasurer
It’s a warm July Sunday morning, and I’m enjoying my second cup of at my desk in the Pantages Box Office. I like quiet Sunday mornings at the office, when I can catch up unfinished work. You might be surprised at how many details go into the day-to-day operation of ticketing a 2,700 seat theatre, but I’ll save that for a different blog.
Flash forward a couple hours, and cue the entrance of the Company Manager of Fiddler on the Roof, stage left, with a somewhat wide-eyed look of … is that distress?
“Topol will not be in today’s matinee.”
As I listen to the words, they take a moment to register. It’s now 40 minutes until curtain and the doors are open and the lobby is full of people. She repeats, “Topol will not be in today’s show.” After a beat it sinks in, and my mind starts racing. The second cup of coffee was staring to pay off. But for how long?
Like the performers on our stage, we have rehearsed for these moments (although fortunately, such crises are few and far between). Step one: E-mail the General Manager, Associate General Manager and House Manager a quick message. Step two: Call Ticketmaster to enable refunds or exchanges, should they be requested. Step three: contact the parking lots to allow refunds. Step four: create handouts and signs providing patrons with instructions. Step five: make the announcement over the PA system … The Announcement?!
My heart sinks into my stomach, which then sinks to the floor. Once that public announcement happens it’s on…. and by “it,” I mean the distraught patrons.
We place signs in the box office windows and at the doors of the theatre and supply a handful of refund information slips to the security guys just as our refund line grows to a half–block long and the first complaint is heard: “We drove two hours to get here just to find out Topol is not here – why didn’t you let us know ahead of time?”
Then the passionate questions get turned up in volume, and it’s contagious. 30 minutes later, the accusations begin.
“That’s false advertizing.”
“You knew this ahead of time; I know you did!”
“You deliberately deceived us!”
The anger in people’s eyes is a little unnerving (more so as it enters hour two).
Many great musicals feature an “11 o’clock number,” the one where emotions reach a peak during a cathartic release by the main character. Think “Rose’s Turn” in “Gypsy.”
On this day, the 11 o’clock number happened before 3 in the afternoon. A woman steps up to the refund window. Her body shaking with emotion, her eyes pouring forth tears, she lifts her voice, as if to reach the back of some balcony. My ears tune in as she shares about how her daughter has studied Topol in school, and how upset, how wounded her little girl is. And I find my eyes gazing upon the little girl who clings tightly behind her mom;s neck. And like so many time before, I wonder why it is that people think that those of us behind the box office glass are deliberately out to cheat them.
Please don’t get me wrong. I know what I signed on for when I adopted my profession. And I am thrilled that I have the opportunity of heading the box office of one of this country’s major venues for touring Broadway. And if it means that I have to be on the front lines (with some of my amazing co-workers) to soothe nerves, then I accept that challenge.
But since I’m being given an electronic soapbox to share, I figure it doesn’t hurt to state my case. We in the box office don’t control anything that happens (or doesn’t happen) on the other side of the proscenium. We have been told on numerous occasions that the Pantages Box Office staff is one of the friendliest and most helpful in the nation. We are here to help you, in good times and bad. No matter your issue, my hope is that next time you visit and if you ever have a problem, you might be able to see the compassion in our eyes.