by Martin Wiviott, General Manager
Every evening, the parade of patrons into the Pantages to see a production is a cross section of Los Angeles, and America. About 30 minutes before the performance begins, I usually go downstairs and stand on the curb in front of the theatre to observe. Just by doing that, you get a snapshot of who the audience is: ethnic breakdown, economic breakdown, male/female, straight/gay, old/young, with children or not. I can see, for instance, that whenever we do the “mega-hit” shows such as “Phantom” and “Les Miz,” there is a marked increase in young Asian-American patrons. Seeing smartly dressed youngsters on dates coming to the theatre is wonderful. They’re our audiences of tomorrow.
Being in Hollywood, the picturesque variety of people on the streets who are not going to the theatre adds to the hustle and bustle. Among that group we have our nightly visitor in a motorized wheelchair hanging out and trying to find discarded cigarette butts in the ashtrays, all the while rattling his Styrofoam cup with change, hoping to elicit a few more quarters from the passersby. We have the senior citizen sitting on the sidewalk at the corner playing the trumpet. (Why is he always playing “Taps?”) There’s the young sitting in the middle of the sidewalk with his dog, and a cigar box to collect money. (I can never figure out the plea: “Give me money for my dog?”) There are also the occasional t-shirt rip-off merchants who suddenly appear on the corner selling merchandise that looks exactly like what is being sold inside by us at the merchandise counters. And of course, there are always people trying to sell tickets. Usually they’re the brokers who spent top dollar for tickets they couldn’t unload and are trying to get something back. Our security asks them politely to move off the block.
I continually check the time as it gets closer to curtain time. People are walking a bit faster as the deadline nears. More announcements on the loudspeaker, ”Final call, ladies and gentlemen, final call.” About 5 minutes before the performance begins, I go inside the lobby to watch the final dash into the auditorium prior to the overture. I know there is a seating hold, and shortly, the drapes to the inner lobby will be closed, and a wide strap drawn across the entryway will be secured. Once that happens, latecomers will have to remain in the lobby and watch the first few minutes of the show on the TV monitors. We got the larger 50” monitors when “Wicked” began, because that seating hold was nearly 25 minutes. I figured if folks had to stand out there that long, at least they should have a good view of the show. As I check the time close to the start of the show, I help to hurry into the theatre. I’m amused at the nightly last minute decisions as folks hurry into the lobby: Run to the bathroom quickly, or wait until intermission? (Ladies wait; men run.)
The show begins. The latecomers mill about the lobby. And I go back out to the curb to see who’s left out there waiting. Often there are folks on cell phones with frantic looks on their faces. The issue is usually that the person with the tickets isn’t there yet, and the person waiting is stuck outside. I offer to walk them inside so they can watch on the monitors. They’re always very appreciative.
And sometimes it’s just a person waiting who really wanted to see the show, and for some reason couldn’t get a ticket. Just the other day, 10 minutes after the performance of “Grinch” had begun, there was a young couple out front standing with two young children. He was holding one of them in his arms. They had the Grinch brochure and were looking at the photos on the wall. I asked them if they were going inside and he replied, “We can’t afford it tonight”. I asked how far they had driven, and he said, “We came up from Watts.” I went over to the box office, got four tickets, and walked back to them. As I handed him the tickets I said, “This is a Christmas that The Grinch won’t steal. Hurry inside and enjoy the show.”
As I walked away, I saw the excited children leading their parents into the theater, with smiles that outshone the bright lights above.
Another evening on Hollywood Boulevard. Another performance of another show. And my thoughts turn toward another tomorrow.