I spent the majority of my 20s as a FOH Manager in an old, dilapidated but much loved and beautiful Victorian theatre. The building itself was my pride and joy, damaged by fire in the 70s and at that point in time for not fully restored, it was my playground and I loved spending my days and nights there.
Being a House Manager can be entirely thankless at times but in my humble opinion it is one of the best and most important jobs you can do in the theatre. You get the know your theatre inside and out. Theatre at it’s simplest makes people happy and for the time they are in your theatre you get to contribute to their happiness, which is an amazing feeling.
As a House Manager I was always on the audience’s side. There are FOH staff who like to tell audiences what to do, “Don’t use your phone””Don’t talk” “Shh, those sweets that you just brought FOH are making too much noise, it’s disrupting other audience members” I hate being bossed around by FOH staff when I go to the theatre, Theatre does all sorts of wonderful things that are good for people’s health and wellbeing but at the most basic level it entertains people. We go to the theatre to enjoy ourselves, spend our hard earned cash and have a good time. The job of the FOH team is to help audiences enjoy that leisure time, by ensuring audiences are safe and comfortable, sure, there is etiquette to follow, it is disruptive to audience members if someone is on their phone or flashing away with a camera throughout but the job of the FOH team isn’t to tell people off, there’s ways to ensure the enjoyment of everyone without making people feel bad. For example. I’ve never moved anyone who has been complained about, I’ve always moved the complainer. It’s the best possible solution for everyone. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some wonderfully brilliant FOH Staff, most of whom volunteer their time for free and work tirelessly for the theatre that they love so much. Thank you FOH volunteers, you may sometimes feel undervalued but we really couldn’t run our venues without you!.
One of my favourite things about house managing was sitting in an empty theatre, right before opening the house.
There is something incredibly special about sitting in an empty theatre, just soaking up the atmosphere knowing that soon that theatre is going to be filled with a bustling audience, laughing, drinking, having a good time, but for that moment it’s just you, on a red velveted seat, soaking in the history, the joys and pain, the story of the house.
You know that the minute the house opens you and your team will be all big smiles and welcoming voices, being swept up in double booking dramas, ice cream sales, latecomers, the occasional back stage issue, blocked toilets, bar staff arguments, stock issues and more. Whilst the magic happens on the stage I’ve seen FOH staff perform untold magic whilst dealing with customer requests and FOH problems. All the while staying calm and never losing that big bright smile. My fist theatre director once said to me that House Managers should be like a swan, the audience sees you looking calm and elegant above the water but no one should see that all the while you’re paddling madly underneath the surface.
The days are long as a FOH Manager, and I would spend my days in scruffs repairing bits of the building or cleaning the bar, then stuff some food into my mouth before running towards the accessible toilet at 6pm to do a quick change into something slightly more glamorous and chuck some makeup on before the FOH staff arrived for their briefing.
After the most busy evenings I’d take the FOH team to the pub next door for a drink, working with people so closely for such crazy hours you form real bonds with people, during my time at that theatre i saw my colleagues more then I saw most of my family! We’d inevitably end up drinking too much, not having enough sleep and rolling into work in the morning hungover and having to send someone out for bacon butties before we put on those big smiles to welcome audiences for the family Sunday’s kids shows…
I went on to manage venues and festivals, I’ve done some programming and have been lucky enough to manage some really exciting projects, but my favourite times are still, and I think always will, be those glorious, long, crazy days I spent FOH in that beautiful, Victorian theatre…