By Jade Prince
During August I was given the incredible opportunity to work in a West End theatre for a week. I was lucky enough to be allocated Piccadilly Theatre, the home of Jersey Boys, which included experience not only backstage, but front of house. Although the backstage aspect was something I was very interested in, working front of house has given me a whole new respect for theatre ushers, bar staff and the theatre managers. I was given a real insight into what happens before, during and after a show, but I did not anticipate how much waiting around ushers actually do.
When it is time to receive the audience into the auditorium, things of course, become a little manic, but once everyone is seated, the show has started, and late comers are admitted, the ushers can return to the offices on the top floor (unless they are monitoring the auditorium). In the offices, the ushers are allowed “chill time” (a fancy name for waiting around) whilst keeping an eye on the monitor playing the show live from the stage. The end of ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ signalled them to get ready for the interval. The interval I experienced was pretty relaxed with no real problems occurring; everyone was too busy enjoying the show. During the second act, the front of house staff complete stock takes and total up the takings for that day. Then it’s more waiting until the end of the show!
The rest of my time was spent with various backstage teams, ranging from stage management to helping move props during a full rehearsal run through, to then working with the sound department during an actual show. The first thing I noticed was how relaxed everything was backstage. Everyone was so calm, which is amazing considering Jersey Boys is such a big running West End show. It was the complete opposite to what I was expecting. I think the main contribution to this is the fact that Jersey Boys has been in Piccadilly Theatre for many years, so by now everyone knows what they are doing. Magic happens on stage, but I found the crew’s ability to work in such a small environment just as incredible to watch. It was as if the sets were carefully played Tetris blocks moving between the two acts, with fine artistry used to control rotating props out in the interval. The crew do not get the chance to breathe during the interval; because the show is too big for the theatre, the crew must lower down a lift storage bin to remove all act two props and then reload it with the act one props. If they are lucky, the crew will then get a five-minute tea break before the second act starts. This process is repeated straight after the show so it’s set for the next run.
So, next time you go and see a show, I urge you to take a moment to appreciate both the front of house staff as well as the backstage crew, who are all key elements in bringing a show to life.
This article was published in our September 2016 issue.