Thoughts from a Los Angeles Theater Producer

You Are What You Wear

Posted in Producer Tools by Rick Culbertson on September 21, 2009

We need to upgrade the professionalism of the front-of-house processes, especially in the 99-seat theaters.  Now, this is certainly not true for all theaters– there are some very well run theater companies out there who don’t need to listen to me. But, unfortunately, LA is also home to some companies/productions/theaters that are sorely lacking when it comes to front of house professionalism.

 Remember, a show doesn’t begin when the performance starts.  It begins when a patron starts looking for parking.  When coming to the theater, a patron will come into contact with some combination of the following: a valet, a box office staff member, a house manager, a concession staff member, and an usher(s)– all before the show begins.  A patron will judge a theater’s professionalism by their interactions with these people.  Since they’ll deal with these people before they see the show, these staff members are, in many ways equally as important as the quality of the show itself.  As a theater company, if you fail a patron before the curtain goes up, you will likely not get them back.  

Here are some areas that I suggest we all address for quality check: 

  • Parking
    • Are our patrons informed about our parking situation when they buy their ticket?
    • If we have valet services, do our valets have enough information to answer a patron’s basic questions?
  • Box Office Process
    • Are our box office processes efficient? (Do we always end up with long lines?)
    • Do we have procedures in place to handle the most common problems so that they can be resolved quickly and professionally?
  • House Management
    • Does our house manager/usher have the ability to get people into the theater quickly and efficiently?
    • Do we open the house between 7:30 and 7:40?
    • Do we start the performance promptly at 8:00? Or at the very least never later than 8:05?
  • Dress Code
    • Do we have a clearly defined dress code for our front of house staff and box office people?  Do they look professional?
  • Late Seating
    • Do we have a clearly defined late seating policy?

 Now I will expand on what I believe to be the most important issues:

First and foremost, every person that deals with patrons should be dressed professionally.  I recommend that at a minimum, we should all be dressed as we were interviewing for a job in an office– or at the very least, wear khaki’s and a polo shirt with our company/theater/production logo on it.  If our house manager and box office personnel don’t dress professionally, then we simply don’t have a professional production.  End of story.

Beyond that, we need to start making an effort to open all of our houses at 7:30 and no later than 7:40.  I know there are emergencies, but it should not be common occurrence to open our house at 7:50.  It’s just not professional.

We need to start our shows on time at 8:00 (and no later than 8:05). I know we always have people who come late, but think about it: more people were on time.  When we hold our house for a late patron, we are basically saying the late patron is more important than all the other patrons who arrived on time.  Let’s make a commitment to starting our shows at 8 PM.

And when we do have late patrons (which we always will since we are starting on time), let’s make sure we have a solid late seating procedure.  Tape off some seats closest to the door so they are available for late patrons.  Hold your late patrons until an appropriate time (I was once late to a musical at a 99-seat theater in LA and I was seated during a song–  not professional).  And while we’re holding our late patrons in the lobby, it’s not a bad idea to have the house manager/usher fill them in on the plot– whatever portion of the show they’ve missed so that when they do sit down, they will understand what’s going on.

These are all very simple things that we can each implement right away.  They cost nothing, and will make our theaters far more professional.  The more companies that operate with a professional looking front of house, the more professional our industry will look.

Maybe, if we had a Producer’s League, we could hash out and agree to some general guidelines that would serve as a minimum… visions of the future.

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One Response

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  1. jay mcadams said, on February 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Bravo! I have worked for years to implement all of these things and more so that 24th STreet Theatre’s house staff is professional and helps audience members have a great night out. I agree that we should all be thinking about these things.


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