I became a daytime usher for Park Square Theatre in 2014 specifically because the new Boss Thrust Stage had been built, allowing for two plays to run simultaneously. Thus, an extra crew of ushers were needed for student matinees. Unlike the evening and weekend ushers, daytime ushers are not volunteers but paid employees with responsibilities beyond ticket-taking, passing out programs, seating patrons and doing post-show cleanup.
On any given shift, a daytime usher may also be the bus wrangler, who is posted across the street from the theatre 45 minutes before show time—in sun, rain, sleet, or snow–to greet school groups, give bus drivers instructions and lead groups safely to the theatre. Ushers not positioned inside the theatre during the play remain in the lobby, preparing concessions for sale and, of course, selling snacks and beverages during intermission. After intermission, they tally sales and clean up the lobby. Inside ushers remain with the audience, but one monitors bathrooms during intermission. The bus wrangler checks on bus arrivals and leads groups out once the performance ends. Every usher helps with post-show clean-up and, if needed, lobby setup for the evening performance.
In my two seasons of ushering, the question that most people ask me is: How can you watch a play over and over?
They wonder if I get sick of a play or if it is traumatizing to, for instance, perpetually watch Lenny get shot at the end of Of Mice and Men or the lovers die in Romeo and Juliet. What is it like to watch the Franks, Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel ultimately be discovered by the Nazis in The Diary of Anne Frank each week?
My answer is this: It is actually quite inspiring to watch a play multiple times, the way I must as an usher.
As a daytime usher, I am not simply watching the play but also the students as they watch the play. Yes, I do scan the space for disturbances, such as whispering, unusual noises or light from electronic devices, but I also witness all their reactions to each scene, whether they are humorous or tragic. I can feel how engaged the audience is in the play and how the actors may be responding accordingly. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, the actors will improvise to extend the play-within-the-play scene to make it even funnier if we have a particularly lively crowd. No performance is quite alike because of the interplay between audience and actors.
In watching a play many times, I also get to see it evolve and strengthen. Particularly during the first week of a production, several behind-the-scenes people, such as the director and fight choreographer, sit in to note what needs tweaking. Actors also take time to embody their characters and to gel as a group. The changes may seem subtle, but an usher who watches the transformation catches the nuances. An usher who witnesses the transformation also grows in respect for the dedication and craft involved to put on the show.
Because I am a mother of a tween (soon-to-be-teen), which falls within the age group served by our robust Education Program, I—as do the other ushers–do feel very invested in ensuring that our patrons have a positive and inspiring experience at Park Square. For many youth who come through our doors, it is their first time to see live theatre. We want them to come back again and again.
(Click on EDUCATION on the Park Square Theatre website menu to learn more about the program offerings.)