by Chandra Marie Pepino
of SA21 – U
The thing about falling in love with musical theater is you never know when exactly it begins. One minute, you’re a bewildered six-year-old kid staring at the words “SO YOU WANT TO BE A STAR?” scribbled on manila paper; the next, you’re fumbling along to Stephen Sondheim for an audience of 2,000 (from experience, not exactly a fun time). On the upside, though, you never know what hand you’ll get dealt next.
Going into college, I got accepted into the Ateneo Blue Repertory, and had the time of my life as a cast member of our newbie production. I envisioned myself doing more work as a performer for blueREP. This wasn’t a feat for attention—theater helped me reach out to people. To put it simply, I liked knowing I had a story to tell, and that I had the honor of conveying these feelings to complete strangers.
I was never big on behind-the-scenes work until I was dragged into it for blueREP’s third production for their 21st season: Stages of Love, which I will refer to from now on as SoL.
The org was already working double-time powering through rehearsals for SoL and another production (Spring Awakening), and they were clearly undermanned. I wanted to lend a hand, but considering the professionalism blueREPpers are known for, I cringed at the idea of looking out-of-place and incompetent as more experienced members shoved me out of the way, knowing exactly what they had to do.
We were tasked to be part of SoL’s Front-of-House (FOH) team, headed by Claude Flores and Mica Fajardo. Basically, we would be manning the ticket booths, handling minor financial transactions, and spreading the word out online and among our friends. Our most important task, of course, was ushering for the shows.
Pretty soon, rehearsals were wrapping up, and we could feel the pressure coming. My ‘teammates’ and I were as anxious as any of the cast members must have been, because as Front-of-House members, we were literally the first impression. And finally, our audience was here to see if the cast could do our tireless advertising any justice.
Prior to my ushering gig, Mica had given me a short briefing regarding my responsibilities. I decided to attend a show date I wasn’t ushering for so I could observe more experienced FOH members. I noticed that they always made it a point to look en pointe—alert, speedy, and ready to adapt to any sudden changes. They weaved smoothly through the noisy crowd, guiding them to their seats with a smile and a hearty “Enjoy the show!” They spoke in welcoming, modulated tones and had a nice “I-could-be-your-friend-in-real-life” aura about them. I nodded my head as I observed, taking mental notes, all the while trying to keep my cool, because I knew that soon, it would be my turn.
Come ushering night, I was still nervous about having to represent my org in front of paying customers who wanted their money’s worth—which, unfortunately for me, included a satisfactory journey to their seats. In what is perhaps an ironic twist, I had to usher for a full house, and my co-ushers backed out at the last minute. Guess who was left to handle an audience of 120 in a theater that could only seat 90?
Mica told me to stay in the theatre and calm down. “Kaya yan,” she assured. Audience members finally came rushing in, and I steeled myself as I guided them to their seats and addressed their complaints. It was not a walk in the park trying to make sure that blueREP, represented by myself at the moment, valued their concerns—they had different questions (not to mention different levels of temper) about seating, reservations, and house rules. Several times, I had to rush back to Mica and Claude to relay what audience members were telling me. Thankfully, they were patient with me and helped me with what to say.
It was a daunting experience. But when the lights finally came off, the opening music began to swell, and the cast members emerged one by one from backstage, I smiled as I looked at the audience, happily seated (at least, they looked like they were), and knew they were in for a great show. Still smiling, I patted myself on the back for a job well done.
This just goes to show that my love for the arts should go beyond the stage. Burning the midnight oil behind the scenes is just as much a labor of love as it is to be under the spotlight for everyone to see. I’m glad that this experience humbled me, both as a performer and as a person.
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Photos courtesy of Ateneo Blue Repertory’s official Stages of Love Facebook page
- I finally got to do the hands-on work myself, and it excited me to see how I would react to the challenges I saw my fellow ushers face previously. It was a feeling akin to stage fright. I got to experience how difficult it was to deal with people without breaking a sweat, which looked much easier when I was just observing.
- Mica and Claude really helped me understand what was going on around me. Since they had more experience, their advice comforted me and helped me calm down.
- Performers attain an unexplainable sense of fulfillment when they’ve helped put a production together. The challenge with art and aesthetics is its uncanny ability to emotionally paralyze you. There is no criteria or grading system for good art; only vague, general rules. I guess that sense of fulfillment, or the act of gauging one’s commitment to the arts, would be something difficult to convert to an empirical value, or to properly articulate in a single interview.
- An interview would be more suitable for researchers who have particular kinds of people in mind. Participant observation covers a more large-scale demographic. A questionnaire, meanwhile, would be good for gathering general opinion.