So it isn’t press night – because you were at another show then. You arrive at the box office and say politely: “Hello. My name’s Susan Elkin. There should be a press comp for me for this performance. And a programme, I hope, because I’m reviewing it for Magazine X or Y?”
The best response is “Yes there is! I saw it here when I began my shift. Here it is – and your programme. And there’s a drinks voucher for you as well”. Much relief. It means the PR or marketing person has done exactly what he or she agreed/offered or promised to do. And that’s what happens about two thirds of the time. Thank you to all those efficient people.
I could, however, write a book (and perhaps I should) about the other third when communications have failed dismally. Typically my polite opener is followed by a furrowed brow and much frantic computer typing in the box office. Then, perhaps, he or she will pop away to a back room to fetch someone more senior. Occasionally the senior person says “Yes! Hello Susan. Here it all is. I had it awaiting you in my office”. More often than not his or her arrival just means more computer tapping while I stand there feeling awkward – mentioning, from time to time, the name of the person who is meant to have organised this and/or waving the email which in which he or she told me the ticket would be there.
On one occasion – at Churchill Theatre Bromley – the PR, who has since left the company, had clearly done nothing at all and, although the woman in the box office was scrupulously polite I suspect she thought I might be a fraudster (must be the dark glasses and fur coat I always wear) and asked me for identity before, after much discussion, she finally gave me a ticket. It really isn’t pleasant to be put in this position because someone somewhere is not doing their job properly.
It’s surprising, too, how often there isn’t a programme put aside at the Box Office. After all they, presumably, want the review but I can’t review a show without a programme or cast list. Often they say “You’ll need to ask front of house”. Many programme sellers are very junior and have no authority to give programmes to people who say they’re reviewers even if you show them the ticket with “press comp” on it. So the FoH manager has to be fetched. Once (Orchard Theatre, Dartford for a touring show) I was told that there were no programmes and that I should go to the stage door and ask the stage manager for a cast list. My husband set off to do this on my behalf and came back with a hand written list. Almost unbelievable.
All this is why, if I can, I always arrive at venues early – even if it means I have then time for a cup of tea in a nearby café before the show. It also means I don’t have to do all this negotiating with a crowd of restive ticket buyers/collectors behind me in a lengthening queue.
The other problem – and this has happened to me perhaps half a dozen times over the years – is that they issue a comp ticket and then sell the same seat to someone else. So the two of you stand at said seat waving your identical tickets at each other like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I always tell the paying member of the public to take the seat while I go and sort it out with the management – who have always (so far, anyway) found me somewhere to sit even if they have to give me a house seat. More hassle. More time. And if everyone were really on top of the job it wouldn’t happen.
The message of this blog? I’m very grateful to the many theatre staff who do a crackingly good job. But a few of your number do, I’m afraid, need to try a good bit harder.