Monday, April 04, 2011

Enjoy The Show

I spent about four years working (and not working) on my dissertation. All I knew was that I was supposed to write a book, preferably long, probably boring, that five people had to approve. I didn't have any deadlines. I didn't have any assignments. I didn't know the topic. I was working on a subject mostly unknown to my committee (Jewish humor) so I was on my own to come up with ideas and resources. How that thing ever got finished I still have no clue.

Perhaps because of that great, yawning chasm of vagueness that defined my life for so long, I am a woman in love with low-stakes tasks. I hearken back to my days as an assistant in an ad agency, when my sole responsibilities were answering phones, typing letters (they still called it typing in those days) and making copies. Oh, and occasionally getting yelled at for not doing something fast enough. But that was it. At the time, I bristled at the low expectations, wanting to remind everyone that I had a BA from Smith College and was waaaaay overqualified for such drudgery.

Now, I feel nostalgic about it. Somehow, over the years, I have developed a strange fondness for busywork of all kinds, and more specifically for tasks that have a beginning and an end with distinct, satisfying results after a short burst of concerted effort. These tasks include but are not limited to: ironing, vacuuming, washing dishes, folding laundry, filing, collating, and stapling. Yes, save your jokes about having me over. It has to be entirely my idea for the pleasure to really bloom.

I tell you this because my proclivities--these and others--led to a wholly delicious evening this past Saturday night. My friend Jen had arranged for me, herself and four other friends to become a team of ushers for the Horton Grand Theater in downtown San Diego. The Horton Grand is currently the home of the "delightful '80s romp" MixTape, a musical revue that impressively covers an entire decade of great, good and not-so-good (hey, I just realized there was no "Rock Me, Amadeus!") pop songs draped loosely over a coming-of-age framework and majestically belted by eight very perky (but not at all Disneyesque) men and women who never phone it in for even one second. The show was fun, and I even got choked up during the AIDS tribute, but my effusive love for song and dance is not what put the evening over the top for me.

No, that would be dressing in a black skirt and white top and reporting to charming and funny house manager Nashon 90 minutes before the show so we could be buffed and polished to a high sheen of ability, efficiency and warmth. Interesting thing about the Horton Grand: the evening's team of ushers is the staff. Meaning, aside from the masterful Nashon, we were it. I had imagined standing shyly in the aisle thrusting programs at people, but instead my responsibilities during the evening included:

1. vacuuming the lobby (oh, the joy!)
2. greeting patrons at the door
3. handing out programs
4. answering questions and giving directions
5. selling t-shirts and parking passes
6. making charming small talk about the show
7. sweeping the theater for programs and coffee cups

The other members of my team had such diverse responsibilities as Will Call, selling cookies, coffee and wine, and something called "Dip Duty," which became the source of all my callbacks for the evening. I love how theater is filled with important-sounding lingo that sometimes turns out to be nothing but literal--Dip Duty is one of those examples. Seems that the theater had a retrofit a few years back, and now contains a design flaw: two rows at the back have a drop of approximately four inches from the seats to the aisle. Not a problem for the average, alert theatergoer, sure, but potentially fatal for your stilettos-sporting, Singapore-Slinged Gaslamp party girl. Our Dip Duty contingent did have to break someone's fall at least once during the evening.

I enjoyed every minute of my tenure as Horton Grand staff, even prying programs from the gaps between seats ("You have to really get down there and look!" I admonished my teammates. "The shadows make them hard to see!") and answering the Four Questions (no, Dear Readers, not those--those will come next week) that Nashon promised us patrons would ask:

1. How long is the show?
2. Is there an intermission?
3. Where's the bathroom?
4. Can I bring my coffee into the theater?

Initially, I did forget I was wearing an official Lambs Players name tag, and was mystified at the number of people who thanked me by name. I may also have behaved a smidge saucily when a British guest asked me to direct her to the loo: "Right, the loo is just there, on the left, luf!" She squeezed my arm and smiled in response. In general, I found the audience to be the nicest people, all smiles and gratitude and chattiness. Maybe I didn't actually sell any T-shirts during the intermission, but I had a crowd around my kiosk anyway, gabbing away about the show, the theater, the nabe, and everything in between.

So I highly recommend this ushering gig. I know I'll do it again. Maybe so I can see a free show, but maybe just because it's fun being in charge. When being in charge just means the carpet either has crumbs, or it doesn't. Easy peasy.

3 comments:

Usher Capt. Jen said...

I feel the same way! I love staying busy, working the concession bar and making change - give me a cash drawer anywhere and I'm a happy girl. Glad you had a good time too! I'm going to ask them about getting on the schedule regularly.

Stephanie said...

What fun!

Sam said...

Excellent, Captain My Captain! Sign me up, too! :)