Scene 1: Tuesday morning. Full house with school groups and general public eager to see Nina Simone: Four Women at the Boss Thrust Stage. A key actresses awakens too ill to perform. It is now 15 minutes before show time with no understudy. The show must go on.
Scene 2: A group of autistic children arrives close to start time. The play will begin late to allow for extra care in seating. An irate patron repeatedly complains despite knowing the reason.
Scene 3: A male gets up to exit in the middle of the play. He suddenly leans against the wall in distress and slides to the ground.
Acting as the official host of Park Square Theatre for each performance, the house manager strives for a positive experience for all audience members, sometimes under challenging circumstances such as the real-life scenarios above. S/he does so not only through effective coordination and teamwork with the box office staff, stage manager, production crew and ushers but also with pre-show preparation, showing up well beforehand to turn on lights, monitor room temperatures, review seating charts, receive and give instructions and unlock the doors.
Once the public comes through the lobby doors, our house managers maintain a calm exterior, even if they may be “sweating bullets” underneath. How do they manage to stay cool in an environment ripe for potential chaos? Three of our current house managers reveal how they are able to go fearlessly into the unknowns of each performance.
Adrian Larkin: As a jazz musician, Larkin is ever ready “to improvise if things don’t go my way.” Whether playing with his group “The Blue” or any other musicians, he knows that good communication is core to a positive outcome. Larkin simply extends his musical ethics into his work at Park Square Theatre. He fosters an unspoken “deal of mutual respect to ensure a good time” and strives to be “assertive yet leave no doubt that I am on their side.”
Federic Nobello: Nobello, a vocalist and music producer, also feels that his role as a performer informs his approach to house managing. His technique is to “keep going, don’t stop, don’t dwell on anything for too long, solve problems quickly and go on to the next one.” Nobello is very comfortable dealing with the public, having worked in consumer marketing research as well. Fatherhood and work with youth groups make him especially attuned to our younger patrons who come to enjoy Park Square Theatre’s student matinees and Immersion Days throughout the school year. He understands “many different ways to approach kids, but key is to make them feel like you’re hearing them and will give them the benefit of doubt.”
Staci Satre: Staci’s background as a waitress has definitely helped her hone the skills to “keep cool in high pressure and problem-solve the unexpected.” She is all about TEAMWORK. Her philosophy in house managing is that “the management in my title is negligible. I am not here to tell people what to do. I am here to help, assist, learn, support the rest of the staff and step in if anything needs doing.”
Being an usher myself and having worked under all three, my observation is that the House Manager cannot be effective without an underlying quality of kindness, not only towards patrons, but also towards staff — all of diverse ages, temperaments, and life experiences. Generosity of spirit and hospitality go hand in hand.