I See Your Schwartz Is Bigger Than Mine

3 May

Greetings from San Antonio – home of the Alamo, some of the most delicious carne guisada I’ve ever eaten and the city where the MerchWhore blog got started nearly a year ago. This is also one of the busiest cities I’ve ever played in terms of merchandise sales. While I love being busy, this particular city presents some problems that other cities don’t – primarily that the merchandise booth is situated in the back of the theatre. I’m talking…inside the auditorium. That’s pretty typical in a Broadway theatre that seats around 1,000-1,400 people, but it’s almost never the case in a touring house. Working in the back of the theatre means that I have to turn out all my lights once the show starts and basically can’t make any noise so as to not disturb anyone around me, including the light and sound technicians sitting near me…not to mention the actors onstage.

The backside of my booth at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. This is what the actors would see from the stage...

The backside of my booth at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio. This is what the actors would see from the stage…

Working in the dark presents challenges, as well, such as counting money, pulling and folding stock and doing paperwork. With Flashdance, I had a little flashlight that I held between my teeth so that I could see what I was doing. For Evita, our head carpenter let me borrow a headlamp so I could have my hands free. It’s very useful, but I still have to be careful not to turn my head too quickly or in the wrong direction or I may find myself working as an unintentional spotlight operator. But seriously, I do have to be careful not to become a distraction with my light to the audience or the people onstage. A random light bouncing around on the back wall of the house can become not only distracting to the actors, but it could be dangerous. This is one of the many reasons flash photography is not permitted in the theatre – a sudden burst of light can distract or even temporarily blind an actor or dancer and they could potentially hurt themselves because of it in a whole host of ways: falling into a trap door, not moving out of the way of a moving set piece or falling off the stage. It sounds silly, but it’s happened. The setup in this house is not an ideal situation, but being flexible is all part of the job.

Me, looking very handsome in the headlamp that our head carpenter lent me for the week. Anyone up for spelunking?

Me, looking very handsome in the headlamp that our head carpenter lent me for the week. Anyone up for spelunking?

Another challenge this setup presents is a shorter selling period. Typically when I’m set up in the front lobby of a big performing arts center, I’m set up and open an hour before the show starts. Because I’m not inside the auditorium, I can keep my lights on and I can open and close doors and drawers and move things around without fear of disturbing anyone but the ushers. I can also sell to patrons who have maybe stepped out to use the restroom or get a drink. I don’t like doing it, but as long as they’re not disturbing the people inside…I’ll make the sale. I mean, that’s my job.

Here, however, the doors to the auditorium aren’t opened until 30 minutes before curtain, so I have half the time to do twice or sometimes even three times my regular sales. Again, this is typical of a Broadway production in New York, but tours generally play to houses twice or even three times the size of a Broadway theatre, so that extra half hour of sales time is important. Still, I’ve been doing this a long time and I am quite good at getting people through the lines quickly and accurately. It generally means I don’t have time for small talk or banter – just get ’em in and out – and sometimes people get offended by that, but my priority is getting through 50 people in 15 or 20 minutes. I don’t mean to be rude or short with anyone…I just have a limited amount of time in which to do my job.

During certain periods of the year, the actors in the show will sometimes collect donations from patrons at the end of the show for an organization called Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. If you don’t know about them, you should read up on them. They do wonderful work not only in AIDS research and support, but also in women’s health and other organizations such as the Actors’ Fund, which helps actors with a whole host of things. I’ve even used the Actors’ Fund’s services by way of the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic when I’ve had anything from a sinus infection to mono and didn’t have insurance to cover the bill. Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. During those collection periods, some of the cast members would come out with their little red buckets and be absolutely appalled at the number of audience members that would leave during what’s called the curtain call, which is when the actors come out after the show to take their bows. The curtain call is an opportunity for the actors to thank the audience for their attention and support and applause, and it’s a chance for the audience to show their appreciation for the work that the actors did onstage. In our business, it’s a sign of disrespect to get up and walk out while a company of actors is taking their bows – even if you are just leaving to beat the traffic or because your babysitter needs to get home by 11:00. As much as I dislike it, I do sell during the bows when my booth is out in the lobby, but because I’m actually inside the theatre here, I don’t. Not only do I feel it’s disrespectful, it’s also impossible to do in the dark.

Tonight during the last few minutes of the show, I headed to my booth and started to get set up for the walk-out. I carefully chose my moments to move the booth in and out, choosing only the loudest musical moments so that I wouldn’t disturb anyone. The last 4 or 5 minutes of the show are very somber and quiet – SPOILER ALERT: she’s dying – and it would be an absolutely awful time to accidentally knock over a mug or drop a CD. As I was standing behind my booth, watching Eva die through the hinged cracks of my back booth, listening to her quietly sing, “The choice was mine and mine completely…I could have any prize that I desired…,” a man approached me in the dark and started talking to me in his full voice, not even bothering to whisper.

“I want a Star Quality t-shirt.”
“I’m sorry…I can’t sell while the show is still going,” I responded.
“Oh!,” he said, a little miffed. “Well then, never mind.”

A few seconds later he came back to me. Eva was still dying.

“Y’know what, just go ahead and get it ready.”
“I’ll get it ready when the show is over. She’s still singing, sir. I can’t sell while the show is still going.”
“Forget it! You lost a sale,” he said. “Your loss.”

I thought that was the end of him. I thought he’d left. I watched the rest of the bows, waiting for the blackout onstage so I could turn on my lights and start selling as I heard what sounded like a herd of cattle leaving the theatre behind me. At the appropriate time, I switched on my lights and turned around to find the man and a younger guy (I assume his son?) standing at my booth. His son very snarkily said to me,

“Dr. ______________ would like to buy a t-shirt. Is that alright with you? Is he allowed to do that now?”
“Yes. The show’s over now, so I’m happy to help you. What can I get for you?,” I responded, as pleasantly as I could, despite his complete douchtasticness.
“I want a medium Star Quality,” Dr. ________ said.
“Unfortunately, I only have that one in a ladies’ large or extra large. Would you like to see the large?”
“Seriously? Y’know what? Forget it. And you know somethin’? You should learn some respect,” said the man who tried to buy a t-shirt during the show. As he walked away, he added, “This is why you’re going to be stuck working for $15 an hour for the rest of your life!”

And y’all wonder why I dislike people so much.

I’ve worked with the public for a long time and I’ve had a lot of insults thrown at me in that time – it comes with the gig, unfortunately – but for some reason, I’m having a hard time shrugging this one off. I guess it’s always kind of bothered me that I have a Masters degree and I’m seen as just a guy selling t-shirts and I guess that’s a personal insecurity that I need to deal with, but what was I supposed to do? If I served the guy while the show was still going on a few hundred feet behind me, it would have disturbed the audience and the technicians near me. It would have been disrespectful to our incredible Eva, Caroline, as she stood up on that balcony…still singing after being onstage for 2 1/2 hours. It would have been disrespectful to the sound and light techs sitting mere feet away who had to listen for cues in order to run the show that was still going on. Had I turned on my lights, the house manager and probably stage management, as well, would have pounced on me – and rightfully so. So what else could I have done?

I suppose I don’t really care about Dr. Whatshisname, but that last comment was the one that got to me. Yes, it stung a little, but it also just felt like he was trying to establish some sort of dominance. Mine is bigger than yours, if you will. I half expected him to pull it out and pee all over my booth to mark it as his own. I get the feeling that he wasn’t accustomed to being told “no” and therefore felt he needed to assert himself, but really he just came off as being an asshole.

It must have affected me more than I expected, though, because it triggered me to go eat WAY beyond my Weight Watchers points for the day. I was aware of what I was doing as I ate that giant burrito, though, which is progress. I recognized that I was eating my feelings and I knew that I was choosing to go way over my points for the day. If I have gained weight next week, I have no one to blame but myself. Well, myself and that San Antonio doctor who wanted to buy himself a woman’s fitted shirt.

The giant carne guisada burrito I had on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.

The giant carne guisada burrito I had on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX.



2 Responses to “I See Your Schwartz Is Bigger Than Mine”

  1. Susan Williams May 3, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    The self-entitlement blows my mind…I’m so sorry that happened to you. Dr. A****** probably demanded his own lane on the highway going home.

    FYI: I’ve reached lifetime status at WW, and I noticed that sometimes a big calorie load kicks your metabolism into high gear and helps you lose…don’t worry about it!

  2. mikiepocd May 3, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    Dr. Soprano needs everyone to know that he is more important than they are. I deal with people like this online every day, and they are usually Groupon buyers. That means they’ve spent $15, of which we will see like $7, and think they are ballers. And are usually looking for something to be “disappointed” about. That’s the customer service email buzzword: disappointed. Well, I am disappointed in my governor, and the Nigerian government at the moment, so I don’t have feelings to spare because your cell phone case didn’t match the color you were picturing in your head. I’m also disappointed in people like Dr. Soprano for being poopy to my friend. He showed his obvious disregard for other people as people for getting up during the performance anyway, and then threw a fit like a child when he didn’t get his way. What a jackass.

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