Whenever I hear stories like these… (long)
Last Edit: ShowGoer 10:32 am EST 11/07/22
Posted by: ShowGoer 10:25 am EST 11/07/22
In reply to: re: Downstate (and more generally): where is the front of house staff? - KingSpeed 11:42 pm EST 11/06/22

… for some reason I think of film critic Gene Siskel, who famously had a standing offer of $10 (it was the 1970s & 80s, so that was more money then) that he would give to any usher who removed parents of a crying baby from the movie theater. (He paid up on multiple occasions.)

Unfortunately, once the show begins there’s not much you can do except complain - in which case you start missing at least part of the show. There was a drunk seated next to me and falling in my lap at a major musical about a decade ago, and at intermission, after speaking with ushers, the house manager and general manager offered to bring me and my date back, in comparable seats, on a night of our choice in the future. That’s the gold standard of customer service, but several other times I’ve encountered variations on that excellent response.

On two other separate occasions in my long life, though, when audience behavior similarly got too much to bear, I’d missed too much of the show, and front of house didn’t seem all that helpful or even apologetic, I switched to what should always be a last-resort tactic, but one which has an effect - disputing the charge with your credit card company. This obviously doesn’t work if you’d bought last-minute tickets from TKTS or TDF – and is a thing that I’m not happy to do, since it has a whiff of entitlement… but bear in mind that whether asking or demanding your money back, the actors, writers, and crew are all still getting paid. Unlike, say, sending a meal back in a restaurant, which some people do all the time and where there’s a risk that’ll come out of the paycheck of the cook or your server – the only pockets that will be affected if you insist on a refund in the theater are those of the producers… and, I would argue, they’re the ones who should be making sure their house staff police the audience as best they can, maybe not by throwing them out the way Gene Siskel liked ushers to do, but at least as vigorously as they try to keep people from filming or taking photographs of the stage.

The most recent and egregious example of poor behavior that was badly mishandled was at a recent, and quiet, play where the two women next to me were reading their cell phones and speaking to each other for the entire first half of the first act, despite my repeatedly and nicely asking them to please be quiet and put their phones away. After 30-40 minutes of them not doing so, I left the auditorium and asked to speak to the house manager. He was somewhat apologetic but said that all he could offer to do, since the show was a hit, was to TRY to get me back at a future performance by my calling on the day of the show to see if they could squeeze me in using their ‘past-date’ policy. I politely told him that with respect, that wasn’t good enough - especially since the two women had been sitting on the aisle and should have easily been seen, spotted and stopped by anyone from staff who was in the auditorium - and that if he couldn’t do better than that I’d have no choice but to buy another ticket and refuse to pay for it. (I thought by being up front, aside from my being honest, he’d make more of an effort to help me). He basically said “You do what you have to do.” As soon as I got home I purchased a ticket in the same seat for a few weeks later (since the show WAS a hit, that seat had unfortunately gone up in price from $150 to $450 since the time I’d purchased my first ticket), and then as soon as that second performance was over, I initiated a credit card dispute and made a nice courtesy phone call to Telecharge not only to explain why, but to explain that I’d also told the theater I would be doing so in advance. My dispute was never questioned, and I received phone calls or emails of apology from Telecharge, the Shubert Organization, as well as the very same house manager who originally hadn’t been able to do much. (He might have been having an off night. He also might have been in fear, because it was a Scott Rudin production… which frankly is another reason why I wasn’t in the least bit hesitant or regretful about getting a now-premium $450 ticket for free.) On the other hand, as I say, I wasn’t eager to resort to that worst-case scenario in either of those instances… but it is a perfectly legal option, one which people should know about.

But YES – it’s no doubt a challenge, but front-of-house staff need to try to do better, especially in obvious cases like theater goers on the aisle who never for a moment turn off their phones, or people noisily eating a fragrant foil-wrapped sandwich. There’d be fewer audience members going home angry, fewer incidents like the two times I refused to pay for my ticket, and I’d like to believe, fewer incidents of people pushing each other at Tina.

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Next: re: Downstate (and more generally): where is the front of house staff? - TGWW 08:51 pm EST 11/06/22

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