When I asked to join in on the Spring Awakening Front-of-House team, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I assumed that it would be a chill job wherein all I would have to do is cut tickets and hand them out. Simple things, like smile and say “Thank you!”
I could not have been more wrong.
March 22, 2013. Spring Awakening’s second Friday show, and the reservation sheets were full to the brim with expectant theatre-goers. I was told to expect a wave of people, and handle everything with patience. I had a partner beside me, a ball-pen in hand; a cashbox full of prepared change, and the reservation sheets lay out on the table. 236 names screamed out from the paper, and the frightening thought of the theatre not having enough seats haunted me. I imagined that angry customers would shout at me for not preparing their arrival, belittling me to tears as I apologized and returned their money. My key informant, the previous front-of-house head, told me to expect stress. “A good fifteen minutes worth of stress when the audience members arrive and you have to show them in. Just keep it together, it’s only fifteen minutes.”
7PM hit the clock, and the first few audience members trickled in
The problem with me, you see, is that I get stressed out so easily. A simple ball-pen falling out of my hand is enough to make me jump and worry that I’m doing a bad job. I usually need someone beside me to calm me down and assure me that I’m doing a good job, a little handholding here and there.
“Good evening! Do you have a reservation?” was the customary line. The pair was composed of two adults- probably alumni or parents of one of the cast members. They smiled and said they did, gave me their names, and I searched the list for them. I accepted their money, gave them their tickets, and informed them that the theatre would open in twenty minutes. A successful first encounter!
The same thing happened for the next fifteen minutes. People starting arriving more rapidly now: parents dressed in pristine white shirts, slacks and pearl earrings; Students dressed in blue Ateneo shirts and denim shorts; Outsiders in their leggings and blouses- the difference in audience members was clear. Most of the students were noisily chatting away while waiting for the doors to open. Anticipating what the show would have in store, compiling all the reviews they heard or read online. The parents patiently waited, reading through the souvenir program. The outsiders (mostly blueREP alumni) were the noisiest. Excitedly cheering when they saw their old friends, raving about how excited they were to see the show and how different Ateneo looks now. They reminisced about their college years and laughed whole-heartedly together.
As more and more people arrived, and the doors had not yet opened, the venue was getting noisy and the energy was at an all-time high. People starting crowding around the ticket booth, and more people were arriving. The lines were getting longer and my hands were not moving fast enough. Money was flying in and out, I wasn’t even sure if I was calculating correctly. Questions flying around, things like “Who’s playing Wendla tonight?” “How much is this program?” “What time do the doors open?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “What time does it end?” just to name a few. My senses were flying in all sorts of directions, and I was getting frazzled.
7.30PM, “ladies and gentlemen, the house is now open” I announced to the excited guests. They formed a line and paraded into the cold theatre, scouting for the best seats. As people were filling the theatre, more people were still arriving outside. I was busy talking to a guest, answering all his questions, when one of the girls from the production team came outside and started bugging me with questions about seating arrangements. I got so stressed out by the several voices around me that I dropped the cashbox – the plastic part broke, money spilled onto the floor, thumbtacks went flying. My stress was definitely at an all-time high. I apologized endlessly to the customers and snapped at the member of the production team- something I usually don’t do. That’s when I realized that I was definitely in a foreign environment. The situation was taking over me, and I was succumbing to the stress.
7.50PM, and most of the crowd had gone inside. I let myself breathe for a few minutes to relax, arranged the money and tickets, and put everything away. A few latecomers arrived, but they were easy enough to handle with a smile.
8PM, the show had started and my job was done.
It was interesting though, to see the clear division between the audiences. To see how parents, alumni and students approach theatre differently when it comes to dress and manner. To people-watch yet still play role in their day.
Looking back now, I don’t know how I did it. Handling 220 customers in a high-energy and frantic environment, with people left and right asking questions and running around. It was probably the most stressful situation I’ve ever been in because I was not used to it at all. I had no prior experience, and the words “Expect to get stressed” were nowhere near enough to prepare me for that mob of people.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Participating in the event makes you experience the actual emotions of the task- the stress, the panic, and the relief of doing a good job. Taking the role of the front of house head for the first time made me absorb every emotion and expect it for future jobs to come. I’ve always been a part of the FOH team- wherein I was simply observing the head (my key informant) but never really partook in her experience.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
She helped me set my expectations so I knew how to approach certain situations, but also made me realize the differences between situations. Her experience, although similar, was not exactly the same as mine.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
Definitely the first-hand experience. Surveys and interviews simply portray the hypothetical- they do not involve the surveyed in a real-life setting. It makes me realize that participant observation is required when one wants to fully understand foreign situation.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Probably when it’s too personal for the respondent to be honest? Sometimes anonymity encourages people to be honest because it’s protection from judgement. In the case wherein one would observe a drug support group, or a strip club, reponsdents may not be as open to answering questions and explaining their situation to observers.