Lobby Purgatory

“They just didn’t have it in them,” she said.

I was a little amused to hear such forlorn commentary on something so minute. It seemed ridiculous. We were all waiting for the 8 pm show in a big beautiful lobby with huge prints of past production stills, framed posters, snazzy carpeting, and yet she chose to chew on the smallest detail. Of course, by she, I’m referring to the lady I quoted above. A stranger to me, but lets name her Baby. At what was Baby’s proclamation directed? A simple, unimportant title placard made of construction-paper and word document cut outs. The travesty in question was housed in a glass display along with the cast’s quality printed head shots and information on next year’s season. 

Her complaint? The paper wasn’t cut out and pasted straight enough. In her eyes, whoever made the placard just “didn’t have it in them” to go the extra step and make sure that when they cut the paper it didn’t “look like a 6th grader did it.”

But maybe a 6th grader DID do it, and what would be so wrong about that? A 6th grade volunteer for the theater, or any volunteer in general. Even possibly an unpaid staff person who, out of the kindness of their heart or job description, gave their time to make that placard so the creative staff could focus more on making sure that the lights worked, the set was constructed and dressed properly, the actors were safe, and didn’t have to worry about making a dumb little lobby title placard. I was almost offended that Baby focused so dourly on it.

And yet, though I don’t quite agree with the lady’s attitude, I do agree with her point. The audience should not be given anything to look at unless it is fit to withstand the scrutiny of an uptight public. Not the stage, not a costume, not a title placard. That’s just the way it is. Truthfully, the only reason that Baby probably even noticed it is because she was looking for something to do while waiting to be let into the theatre. After examining the placard myself, I found that it was serviceable, but  certainly a tad more effort wouldn’t have hurt anyone. I didn’t see why they couldn’t just print something else instead of getting all arts and crafts with it.

My point is, energies focused too much on what goes onto the stage sometimes detract from what the audience experiences before they step in to see a show. Who knows if that placard ruined Baby’s evening or her enjoyment of the production; it would be silly if it did, but she probably wasn’t the only one to notice it. Some people are able to brush it off, and others act like, well, Babys. Still, even that small placard represents the theatre’s efforts. Every detail matters.

A challenge for theatre managers: give them something else to look at. Team up with local art schools and display work from their students or hand patrons literature about the company. Not everyone comes to the theatre to chat and pass their own time in the lobby; sometimes people go with people that they don’t want to talk to, and sometimes they go alone. We need to find more ways to keep boredom from settling in. These theatre goers are coming into our house, they are our guests – even the Babys of the audience pool. Keep them entertained, keep them appreciative, keep them coming back.

Also, I’ve ushered plenty of times as a volunteer. I do it quite well to be honest; at least I’m polite enough to not try to answer questions that I don’t know the answers to, and I’ve learned quite well how to deflect sourness. Sadly, I believe there is something lacking in the training that house managers carry out. It shouldn’t have to be said, but covering all bases is better than leaving one uncovered. For god’s sake, house managers: tell your ushers to SMILE! The audience should feel like they are about to go on a ride at Disneyland, not feel like they’re attending a wake. If you ask them to at least pretend like they’re happy to be there, they might do it, and at least you did your job. It’s a simple message to convey, just try and treat everyone like a person.

Lobbies are these strange purgatories. We as an audience are waiting to leave one world and enter another. There is a bit of excitement in the air, but also a bitter sort of energy from those who were dragged there against their better judgement. Sometimes the room is too small, sometimes the people are too big, sometimes the chairs are uncomfortable, sometimes the placards are inadequate. What’s important to remember is that what happens in a lobby can be directed with as much control as what happens on the stage. People should start to feel like they are about to be let in on something rather than being kept out of something.

Finally, I wonder what kind of lobby music gets played outside the gates of heaven. Have any ideas? Leave ’em in the comment section!

My guess? (http://youtu.be/UlUzY3TDhpg)

James Haro is a Los Angeles native currently attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, seeking his BS in Entertainment and Arts Management, Theatre Concentration. He co-operates a blog at www.AngryPatrons.WordPress.com and produces/co-hosts the podcast ANGRY PATRONS RADIO. Episode #0.5 NOW UP! (Click here)

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