Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and
how you began working in theater.
RL: I lived in the hot desert of Arizona, and as a
16-year-old with a summer off from school, I wanted to work someplace air
conditioned, which was the nearby shopping mall cinema. The hard-bitten
manager hired me as an usher for the new James Bond movie. He told me I’d
be laid off in two weeks, which was OK, since "show business"
was a terrible place to work. I haven’t stopped working since.
In my years of cinema managing, I did several
"road show" reserved seat engagements. When I moved to San
Francisco, that got me a job in the Curran Theatre Box Office. My bachelor
degree in Radio and Television Production helped me land a job House
I was in the right place and the right time, and had a
smart theater owner who was willing to take a chance on someone young and
How did your box office background aid you once you
became a house manager?
You need to know a box office inside and out, just like
you need to know stagecraft, public and union relations, facility
management and accounting. Any help is good when irate patrons,
disgruntled employees, an angry cast and an aggressive General Manager are
What do you find are the most challenging aspects of
being a house manager?
Balancing the safety and comfort needs of an audience
with the prerogatives and demands of a show – those are the most
challenging. I should have minored in tightrope walking, too.
What, in your opinion, is the best training for
someone hoping to enter the entertainment industry?
On the job training is best, learning from those who
know. You can study about this all you want, but when you have four
patrons for two seats, and the curtain goes up in 60 seconds, you need to
move quickly and from a knowledgeable position.
Can you describe your typical day?
Long. A typical day is long. Phone calls at home from
New York start coming in at 7:30 a.m. Then I make local calls too, while I
monitor the office voice mail from home. On a show day, I go into work
about noon. Paperwork and planning takes up the day and performance duties
are handled at night and at matinees. I work best and fastest at night,
after the phone stops ringing.
Company and House Managers often have an adversarial
relationship even though they are represented by the same Union. How do
you deal with this?
You need to understand a Company Manager’s job. I
have Company Managed twice. Company Managers often tell me they would
never want my job because I deal with the public. The truth is, in my
opinion, they have it much worse. Babying a family of 50 plus people,
moving them way too often, and having to deal with theaters that don’t
know the show or how to do the best job for the production is difficult.
When they arrive at my theater, I try to make it easier for them, hoping
they will be successful and can enjoy themselves at the same time. They,
and the company, are usually a long way from home.
What have your found to be the greatest asset to
being a Union member?
The feeling of belonging, of being part of a family.
Strength in numbers. Not to mention the terrific salary and a
Taking care of the general public is an
underestimated responsibility. Tell us how you handle it.
I always put myself in their shoes. I do for them what
I would hope someone would do for me in a similar situation. A sense of
humor is essential, as is the ability not to take things on a personal
What do you look forward to as we enter the new
Smart, well organized shows. Internet ticket ordering
on a big scale, with a 3-D auditorium view to help patrons choose their
seats. On a personal level, continued survival in this industry. I’ve
got fifteen years to retirement and then blissful freedom. I’d also like
a chance to see a show without wondering who just dropped a wrench
backstage, and when the worker’s comp form will appear on my desk.
Share with us an amusing anecdote.
This is a partially amusing story but its more about
why I love this work.
One the warm, still afternoon of October 17, 1989, a
strong earthquake rocked San Francisco. LES MISERABLES was loading in,
about one week from opening. The city was paralyzed, without power, and
covered in dust and debris. No public buildings could open without a clean
bill of health. The next morning I found the most precious commodity
around – a structural engineer. We immediately went to the theater,
where we found an anxious Allan Williams, the show’s General Manager,
pacing the sidewalk. We entered the dark building, flashlights in hand.
The first thing we came upon in the auditorium was the famous barricade
set, still in place from the previous night. A jumble of bricks, broken
furniture and debris was piled high. The engineer was aghast: "You
guys are in big trouble! This building is a mess. You’ll never be able
to open it." It took some convincing him this was the set and
it was supposed to look like this!
Within two days, power was back on. While the show
worked mightily to continue the "in" and rehearse, an army of
workers descended on the building to repair plaster, remove dangers and
clean. One afternoon I came upon a wondrous sight – the show was in full
and glorious rehearsal, while all around the proscenium dozens of silent
plasterers hung from ropes or leaned off scaffolding. The show opened on
schedule, losing only two previews. The opening night was amazing – the
city was restored and emotions ran high. During one quiet scene, I could
hear the tinkling of the house chandelier, as an aftershock rolled through
the building. No one noticed; all eyes were on the stage.