By Saoirse Anton
Earlier this week, the artistic director of a prominent London theatre tweeted that two past members of his staff “arrived as diary monkeys & house seat wranglers” and are leaving as a “major producer” and “a proper writer & true artist.” While both women were well deserving of praise for their achievements, did it have to be at the cost of belittling the jobs that they previously did, and that many people are still working in? As a current “house seat wrangler” and “proper writer” I, like many others, was none too impressed. So, with Valentine’s day on the horizon (which I will, in fact, be spending wrangling house seats), here is a love letter to all of the ushers, box office staff, cleaners, assistants, bar staff, and everyone else who keeps venues running.
To those who are not in the programme,
I sit writing this in a theatre that is warm, clean, bustling and alive. The artists who have created the show that is on tonight have not arrived yet, but the building is already busy and you are behind that. Box office is open, technical staff are already at work, the cleaner is already nearly finished for the day, and the smell of coffee and sound of conversation is drifting through from the café. Later, before the audience arrives, ushers and bar staff will get the venue ready for the evening’s performance; they will open the bar, check the auditorium, ensure everything is perfect for the public before the curtain goes up. They make sure people know where they are going, are there to help if there is an emergency during the show, serve the interval drinks that are a mid-way treat at a good show and a balm at a poor one, and maintain the magic from the moment the first theatregoer arrives until the last one leaves. But when the audience leaves, the staff don’t, not yet. Once the patrons are gone home, they will stay on until the last performers have left and make sure the auditorium and dressing rooms are ready to start again the next morning.
In my local venue, I play a part in this. Elsewhere, I thank all those who do. Thank you to the box office staff who help me out when I phone with a question, to the bar staff who make the coffees that keep me alive through fringe, to the ushers who manage audiences of hundreds. Without all of the people who work these jobs, venues wouldn’t function, shows wouldn’t happen, our industry wouldn’t exist.
Tyrone Guthrie once wrote “It is sometimes supposed that self-expression is a privilege reserved for a race apart, beings called artists. This is not my experience. I have known carpenters, cooks, gardeners, engine-drivers, workers of many kinds who have been able to use their work as a satisfying means of self-expression. Perhaps, it may be argued, that in doing so they raise cooking or engine driving to the level of art. I think they do.” We love these jobs; we care about these jobs as much as a writer cares about their work or an actor theirs.
So, to the “diary monkeys,” the “house seat wranglers,” and all of the others who keep this industry ticking over, we love you.