Thursday, October 8, 2009


by Martin Wiviott, General Manager, Pantages Theatre

You’d be surprised at the letters I get that start out that way. I can always tell a complaint letter from the envelope. When I see the mail in the morning, I look at the letters, and sort of feel the contents… look at how it’s addressed (most often in capital letters) to “Manager”… and then look at the return address, which often contains any kind of title the writer might possess (Executive Assistant to…. Judge, Retired…. Attorney at Law). Most are handwritten, with the bold scratching literally trumpeting off the envelope in anger.

I usually save these fascinating missives to read later in the day. Obviously, when things go wrong at the theatre, such as a star missing some performances, I expect to get letters of complaint. Why not? I complained about it too! The interesting thing about those letters is that the patron is correct, and we will do whatever they request including refunding the tickets with no questions asked. But I have to decipher the message through all the anger they muster to tell me how disappointed they were.

Then there are the folks who have seen the entire performance, and weeks later, come up with a reason why they were not satisfied, claiming they’re owed a refund. I loved the lady who called me to tell me how terrible she thought a show was. She had her boyfriend on the phone, who attended with her. We chatted for a few minutes and then she said, “I was so bored I fell asleep.” I said, “Now let me get this straight. You said the show was terrible, but you didn’t see it because you fell asleep?” Even the boyfriend laughed! It was so funny that I invited the couple back to see another production.

Generally when people write to request a refund because they thought a show was terrible, I reply with a very congenial letter advising them that their opinion of a show doesn’t make it a fact. I sometimes include a review (a positive one) of the show by a critic, and I say that, just because a critic thinks a show is great, doesn’t make it a fact either. Both are just opinions. And refunds are not made because of opinions. The closing sentence of my letter usually states that “I hope you will take as much time to write us when there is something you do like.”

Some people, writing to complain about not liking a show, state that “I have been coming to your theatre for 20 years, and this is the worst thing I have ever seen.” My reply to that comment is, “Gosh, only one bad show in 20 years? What a great track record we have!”

Then there are the complaint letters from patrons who purchased seats toward the back of the theatre for reduced prices and later write to complain that there were empty seats in front of them, and the ushers wouldn’t let them move down to the more expensive locations. Just think! Of all the nerve! We actually made them sit in the seats they purchased!! What they don’t consider is, when they do move down to closer locations, I get more letters from the people who were sitting there and saw those who paid less moving into the areas in which they paid to sit.

Are there some productions that are not as entertaining as others? Of course. Are there some performers who are not as good as the Broadway originals? Of course. But for the most part, the productions that appear at the Pantages are entertaining, and in some cases even better than the New York versions. I have often heard patrons commenting in the lobby, “This is better than the version I saw on Broadway.”

All things considered, I usually adhere to the tried-and-true business slogan, “The customer is always right.” And in the end, after 30 minutes of letting someone vent on the phone, I’ll ask, “What would you like me to do?” After that, they generally become my lasting friend!

We have one patron who, years ago, wrote me claiming the performance she saw was worse than any high school production. (Secretly, I agreed. I couldn’t even sit through that show!) The lady and I talked for quite a while. We agreed that we both had the same taste in theatre. Since her Season Tickets were always toward the end of the run, I told her I would see the show on opening night, and if I didn’t like it, I’d know she wasn’t going to like it, and I would phone her and tell her not to come, allowing her to exchange for another production. She’s still a Season Ticket Holder to this day, and I’m her personal advance critic!

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