According to theatrical lore, Helen Hayes (The First Lady of the American Theatre) had a ritual she never deviated from whenever she was opening in a new show on Broadway. On the first day of previews, as legend has it, she would have her assistant go 'round to all the ushers and box office staff and collect their birthdays. Then she would keep them in a calendar and during the run of the show every front of house staff member would receive a personal birthday card from Helen Hayes herself.
Why did she do this? Because she understood that the success of any show, no matter how brilliant, depends on the good will and enthusiasm of the people who make first (and repeated) contact with the public. If the people answering the phone in the box office or tearing tickets as the audience arrived each night loved Ms. Hayes, the chances of the audiences loving her were better.
The other night some friends and I went to a fabulous show performed by Lady Rizo and The Assettes at the Highline Ballroom. And although it was packed, if I were her manager I would advise her never to perform at that venue again.
I arrived just 10 minutes before the start of the opening act and was surprised to find my friends waiting in a clump by the entrance to the club. Given that we all had purchased tickets in advance, as one does to most live shows, I'd expected to be whisked in to find them already enjoying their first cocktail at our table. Instead I found all 3 of them in a surly mood. Apparently they'd been told by the manager that only complete parties could be seated. Now, when you're at Sarabeth's during the brunch rush on a busy Sunday morning waiting for a table, that makes a bit of sense. But as ticket-holders to non-refundable seats, complete party or not, the 4 seats were all spoken for and regardless of whether I ever did actually show up, my friends were guaranteed that table by virtue of their advance sale. Or should have been.
My boyfriend informed me once we were all seated that this was not his first bad experience at the Highline Ballroom. When he had purchased 2 tickets a year before for another show there but arrived alone, he was told that since he was now "a single" instead of "a deuce" he'd have to stand for the show rather than be seated at a table. When he insisted he had purchased a ticket for a seat at a table, the manager finally grudgingly agreed and put him at a table way in the back with 5 strangers and didn't send the waiter to take his order. Presumably, as punishment for having the nerve to have insisted?
You've bought a ticket.
We're happy to see you.
Welcome to our show.
And this is how it ought to be at any venue that hopes to survive in the most competitive market on earth.In addition to the surly front of house staff, the waiters were friendly but inefficient and—perhaps the worst offense of all—the sound system was awful. Feedback and audio hum interfered with the overall quality of what should have been a kick-ass performance. Please, Lady Rizo, as one of your newest fans, I implore you, stick with Joe's Pub.
[For some more thoughts on venue, check out last year's post: A Grounded Audience—My Unscientific Discovery.]