The Joys of Working Front of House

A lot of people say to me that I have an ‘easy’ job, and they are wrong. Let me give you the low down on my life as a front of house usher, a.k.a slave of the theatre.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the theatre, front of house ushers are the lovely folk that show audience members to their seats and sell ice cream during the interval. On the surface this looks like all we do but ahh, our job is so much more than this. Allow me to run through a shift with you, our scenario is set in a sold out evening show.

6pm to 6:15pm- Arrive at the theatre for the start of the shift, an hour before the show starts. Briefing with the duty manager; ushers get assigned to doors in the stalls, circle and upper circle, and whether or not you watch the performance depends on your door. I am on Stalls 1, lucky me(!). Everyone gives me pitying glances, you’ll soon see why.

6:15pm to 6:30pm- Go into the auditorium to put in/take out wheelchair seats. Actors are on stage warming up and having banter. They pretend they can’t see us because in the theatre hierarchy, we ushers are at the bottom.

6:30pm to 7pm- Receive my float of money, get given a handful of programmes to sell, and then head to my door. Have to deal with customers who ask to “just have a look” at a programme, spend about 10 minutes perusing it, then decide not to buy one. Also have to be patient with customers who keep asking me if the house is open yet. It hasn’t been opened in the two minutes it’s been since you last asked me, madam, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it is.

7:15pm- The show should’ve started 15 minutes ago and the house still isn’t open due to some lighting issues being sorted on stage. There are a lot of annoyed customers at my door and my profuse apologies aren’t enough to quell the crowd.

7:30pm- The house opens half an hour late. I ignore the glares in my direction and begin to let audience members in. But there is a slight glitch in row F, as it looks like a bunch of seats have been double booked. After looking at both sets of tickets, it turns out one of them is for a different night. The customers who have to move are fuming and this anger is directed at me because somehow, I am to blame for the fact that they booked their tickets for the previous night’s performance and missed it. I apologise some more. The phrase “I am so sorry for your inconvenience” has lost its meaning to me.

7:45pm- I hear, “Front of house, you can close your doors,” over radio and I’m relieved because this means the show is finally about to begin. I shut my doors and prepare to watch the show for the 6th time. Oh, joy.

8:05pm- A disturbance behind me, latecomers. I haven’t received warning over radio so I don’t know where they’re sat, meaning that I have to frantically bring out my torch to look at their tickets, and hope that their seats are on the end of a row, as I’m pretty sure the seated customers don’t need further reason to be angry with me. Their seats are on the end of row M. Relief.

8:45pm- Interval. I stand dutifully by the usher selling ice creams at my door. Some customers complain about the absence of honey and ginger flavour even though we haven’t had it for nearly a year now. Sigh.

10:00pm- Second half goes by without any incidents and the show finally ends. We have to wait till the auditorium is empty before we can give clearance and start litter pick. As this is a sold out show, it takes a while for people to leave.

10:20pm- Litter pick finally starts. This involves front of house staff hand picking litter and cleaning up the auditorium. Time consuming, as per, but at least it’s not a panto show where used diapers are left on chairs…

As I’m Stalls 1, I can’t leave until the bar closes because I have to help with cashing and locking up. So I take a seat in the cafe and the wait begins.

10:55pm- The bar still has people in it.

11:20pm- They haven’t left yet.

11:45pm- Still here.

12:05am- The bar is finally closed, so cashing up can start.

12:15am- Theatre is all locked up and I can finally go home. End of shift.

Yeah, being Stalls 1 on school nights was definitely not fun, but the fact that I was getting paid for staying behind made it slightly better. Ushers are under appreciated, yes, but I do love my job though, and there are many great things about it like how I get paid weekly, get to watch great shows and films for free, my zero hour contract that means I can choose when I work, free drinks on Press Nights, and occasionally getting to meet some big directors and actors (the nice ones, that is).

The theatre is like my second home because I spend a lot of time and used to perform there as well; it means a lot to me. So anyone who thinks that working Front of House is easy can just shhhh.

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