25 August 2007

Archive: It's hot in here

It's been a hot summer here in Michigan. Maybe not the worst on record, but still pretty damn hot. Here's the thing: all summer, I've been hearing complaints about the cold. Just one more of the joys of house managing.

Unless you're in an outdoor amphitheatre at noon in July, theatres are cold places. This is universally true for both playhouses and filmhouses. If you go to see Julius Flaxbarr on Venus, bring a sweatshirt. That's just the way it goes. In point of fact, movie theatres were the first major industry to embrace climate control so if you've been to one at any point since Birth of a Nation was released, you may have noticed that that the room is cooler than it is outside (or warmer if it's cold outside).

Apparently, a lot of people are not aware of this. And because of their ignorance, I get to hear them bitch. I'm a house manager, it's what I do.

At my theatre, the A/C is run through a computer that I don't have access to. It's not even in the building. Since the theatre is part of a college campus, I have to call down to Campus Safety when we have a problem with the A/C and then they have to call the on-call maintenance person. While some of the maintenance people can access the A/C from their home computer*, many of them have to drive from their homes down to campus to do anything about the problem. Suffice it to say, it's not the most expedient process around. And when 800 old person nipples are poking through 400 old person shirts, expediency is of the essence. But, even if I call when I get the first complaint (which, of course, you never do because that's a woefully small sample group) it can take between ten minutes and half an hour (at best) before something happens. In the meantime, they continue to bitch. At me.

And this has been going on all summer. There were nights when, during intermission, people would actually line up at the box office to issue their complaints about the cold. Invariably, the conversation went like this:

First cold patron: "Hey, it's really cold, could you do something about that? I mean, it's freezing in there."

Me: "I'll call right now, it should get better very soon."

Second cold patron [referring to previous patron]: "Were they just complaining about the cold? Because it is freezing in there, could you do something about it?"

Me: "Yes, I've made the call, it should be getting better shortly."

Third cold patron [referring to previous patron]: "Were they just complaining about the cold? Because it is freezing in there, could you do something about it?"

Me: "Yes, I've made the call, it should be getting better shortly."

Fourth cold patron [referring to previous patron]: "Were they just complaining about the cold? Because it is freezing in there, could you do something about it?"

Me: "Yes, I've made the call, it should be getting better shortly."

Fifth through Two Hundred Forty-Third cold patron: "Were they just complaining about the cold? Because it is freezing in there, could you do something about it?"


'But, oh wise and wonderful Dave,' you ask, 'why not find a more permanent solution rather than putting yourself through this routine night after night, destroying your will to live and your tenuous grasp on sanity until you are locked away in an institution, defecating into adult diapers and chewing your own lips off?'

Don't think we didn't try that, oh delectable and clever reader. We asked maintenance to up the temperature level at which the air kicks in. "Okay," they said and adjusted the A/C threshold ONE WHOLE DEGREE! Miracle of miracles, that one degree made all the difference in the world! Thank you, you brilliant and efficient keepers of heat! What would we do without you?!

. . .

Yeah, so when that didn't work, they actually came down to the building to assess the situation. Turns out, the sensor that tells the air when to kick in was blocked. Blocked, and then heated by a monitor that was set in front of it. Let's all take a moment to thank the numb-nuts who set that little rig up, shall we**?

Armed with that knowledge, the situation was corrected. Kind of. You see, as soon as the audience's collective testicles were able, once again, to exit the abdominal cavity they had sought shelter in, the actors started to complain about it being too hot. DISCLAIMER: I love the cast of the show in question. Almost all of them are really great people as well as great performers. I mean no offense to any of them in particular or in general. I'm sure it was startling, after three weeks in the space, to all of a sudden find themselves not performing in an ice box. They worked very hard during the show, sang, danced and all that stuff I will never be able to do, and they did it all in Victorian garb. But, it's not like these people had never been on stage before. It's not like any of them had any right to expect that after a three hour show during which they sang (Sondheim, no less) and danced in heavy costumes under hot lights that they wouldn't get HOT! Hell, the top of Act II was a song about it being hot! I'm not really a method actor, but it could have worked for them.

The best part is, after we had raised the temperature and the actors started complaining about the heat, the audience didn't stop complaining about the cold. Yeah, that was a fun weekend in my world.

So, okay, that's all taken care of. That show departed, a new one came in and they actually, honest to Dog, fixed the temperature. Do I still get one or two complaints about the cold every so often? Yeah, sure, but in greatly reduced numbers and with greatly reduced frequency. And there are more people seeing this show, so statistically that's an even more significant a reduction. Instead, I have to deal with incidents like the one I had last night.

The house is open, the show hasn't started yet, everything is going fine. The volunteer working the concessions stand waves me over and I see there's a lady waiting at the stand who is clearly the subject of whatever problem I'm meant to resolve. Before I can even speak, before the words, "how can I help you?" have even formed in my brain she says to me "It's not as cold in there as it is out here, is it?!" There's real venom here, I note to myself. I explain to her that it's a separate system and it's a different temperature inside the house***. "Last time I was here we left at intermission because it was SO COLD!" She's eyeing me like a Tauntaun that she wants to tear open and climbing inside for the warmth. "We've fixed that problem, the temperature is just right in there now," I explain. "Well it is SO COLD out here that I sent my husband to the car to get a blanket!" How does she want me to respond? 'Uhm . . . awesome?' 'You finally came prepared you raging harpy?' Instead I tell her to let me know if there are any problems and ask that she enjoy the show.

Astonishingly, after she actually WENT INSIDE THE THEATRE she didn't complain anymore. Not that preemptive harpy-ism isn't useful at times, but could you cut a brother some slack here? Geez.

Here's the real kicker, though: on Thursday night, when I was in class and consequently not house managing, we had a campus-wide electrical burp. The lights flashed and that was about it. But somehow that little electron indigestion caused the computer system that runs the air to go all screwy. While the air in the lobby and the green room kept working, the air in the house didn't.

Ideally, in a touch of My Name is Earl style karma, every single one of those bastard asshats that had bitched to me all summer about the theatre being too cold would have been here Thursday night. I realize, of course, that that was not the case and many innocent people suffered but, if even one of the people who came up to me doing exaggerated "burr" gestures or bit my head off about the cold before they even sat down was in the house on Thursday, it was all worth it.

In conclusion: Next time you go to the theatre, be it a movie or a live performance, BRING A GODDAMN SWEATER!

*Because that TOTALLY makes more sense than giving direct access to the people in the goddamn building in question.

**That and the decision to make the air disbursement system into a series of massive phalluses that hang down twenty feet further than they need to and spoog frozen hate directly onto the balding heads of our patrons.

***I don't really know why they keep it so cold in the lobby, and frankly, I don't care. I pick my battles and the lobby just doesn't rank.

05 August 2007

Adventures in House Managing

And here I thought finding a tube of Vicodin in the theatre was going to be my exciting house managing experience this month . . .

Last night, like most Saturday nights, I was working. House managing at the other theatre I work at, not the one I'm at all the time. The show is a kid's version of Sondheim's Into The Woods (I think the only difference is that they only do the first act, but I'm not really sure). All of the actors are kids and the audience is made up of their friends, family and other families with kids. Y'know, a kid's show.

I hate kid's shows.

Now, more than ever.

Normally, the worst part of the kid's shows is (you guessed it) the kids. Kids are a problem because, well, they're little and they get in the way, but also because they're much harder to wrangle than adults are. It's harder to get them to sit and stay in their seats. It's also harder to keep them from bringing candy into the theatre (a big no-no). And, of course, parents with little kids are always late and generally don't buy tickets in advance. Yesterday was no exception.

Since our audience was almost entirely teen-agers or parents with little kids, that meant none of them had the forethought or willingness to make life easier for everyone by purchasing their tickets in advance . . . because of that, a show that was supposed to start at 7:30 actually started at 7:50.

This has happened exactly twice in my long and illustrious career as a house manager: Once a couple of months ago when the entire sound system was fried and we had to set up a new one (and by "we" I mean other people who know things about stuff) and last night. There wasn't anything I could do about it, but sit back and try to keep the people calm. So it goes.

Just as we were selling tickets to the last couple of people in line, a young floppy haired fellow came in. He was tallish and thin with Crocks on his feet and on his face he wore the unholy spawn of Elton John's and Bono's sunglasses. We sold him a ticket, but I did make sure to tell him that normally if he showed up 20 minutes after the show is supposed to start he'd be out of luck. I told him it was very unusual that we were starting this late and he assured me that it was unusual for him to show up that late. So, okay, I get him into his seat just as the show is starting and everything seems to be copasetic.

Turns out, the fun was just beginning.

Here's what happened: Just as I was wrapping up my tight 10 minute intermission (actually, I was ready with 1:32 left to spare) one of the ushers grabbed me and said "Someone just told me there's a guy passed out in there and they think he's drunk."

Now, I've had drunk people in the theatre before (often actors) and usually it's not a big deal. Passed out is a new one for me. I said to the usher "Oh fuck. Where is he?" She brings me into the house and shows me to him. Luckily, our drunk is right near the door because, you guessed it, it's our floppy haired friend who bought his ticket at the last minute.

So, I walk over to him and tap his shoulder "Sir? Sir?" Nothing. I shake his shoulder: "Sir? Sir?" Still nothing. I can see that he's breathing so I've got that going for me, but otherwise he's totally unresponsive. I've seen plenty of drunk people before, I've even seen people passed out before but this guy was (almost literally) comatose. Shit. I walk around the other side of him and see half a bottle of Heineken sitting next to him. 'How the hell--?'

Now I'm less worried about him and more pissed off.

One of the other ushers comes up to me and says she knows him; she went to high school with him. "Alright, help me wake him up." She kneels down next to him and really gives him a good shake. Doesn't even change his breathing. Meanwhile, all of the kids around there are freaking out (and many of their parents) so I say, "we've got to get him out of here. Help me carry him."

I lift this drunken waif out of his chair and only once I've gotten one of his arms slung over my shoulder does he wake up at all. He mutters something and I start moving him out. On my way out the door, I turn to the crew and say, "Go ahead and start the show."

"Alright, good idea."

"Not you," I tell the drunk.

So, we're moving out to the lobby and he's starting to make more noises. While I'm relieved that at least he's awake-ish, I'm filled with the knowledge that this dumb ass will likely puke all over the carpet or, more likely, me. I hate him even more now. Luckily we get him plopped down on a bench in the lobby without any regurgitation happening.

Priority One: Make sure he's okay. He tells me he's fine, I offer and ambulance, he declines. I explain to him just how not fine he appears to be. No really, he tells me, he's fine. How much has he had to drink? Three beers. Which means he's either a lightweight or he's not counting the other things he's been indulging in. Alright, can I call you a taxi? No, he lives just around the corner. Is he sure? Yes, he's sure.

Priority Two: Kick his ass. "How old are you?" He starts to get mad. 21, he tells me. I ask for his ID. Yup, he's 21, as of a month ago. "Where did this beer come from?" "My pocket. I got it at the fucking beer store." I skillfully avoided swearing at him until this time. I wanted to seem professional or something. But once he's introduced it into the conversation, all bets are off.

"What the fuck are you doing bringing a beer into the theatre? For a fucking kids show?"

"I do it all the time, I thought it would be okay," he says.

"You show up drunk to a goddamn kids show, you pass out in the theatre, scaring the shit out of a bunch of little kids and you think that's going to be okay? We don't even allow water in there, why the fuck do you think it's going to be okay to bring in a beer?!" I'm not yelling, instead I'm getting quieter, more intense. In my head I'm a badass and he's too drunk to know any better.

"I dunno. What's the big deal?"

What's the big deal?

"Get the hell out of here. Just get the fuck out." I'm using my big man voice and pointing dramatically at the door, the way my dad used to when he wanted the dog to get out of his chair.

Drunky McDrunkerton staggers to his feet.

"Can I at least have my ticket and one of them booklets?" I hand him a program and tell him that he has his fucking ticket. "Are you going to be here tomorrow for the-- this show," he says, gesturing to the other show on the program (its summer rep so there are two rotating shows).

"No, and you shouldn't be either."

"I'll be here," he says defiantly.

"If you ever show up drunk here again I will call the police. Now, please, get the fuck out of here." He staggers out the door and into the street where he is immediately hit by a car.

Okay, not really, but wouldn't that have been a kicker?