When an Usher Almost Ruins a Performance

Erin Shaughnessy

When going to the theatre, one expects an exciting and unforgettable experience where he or she can unwind and forget about the worries of everyday life for just a few hours. The magic of the theatre is its ability to transport audiences to different worlds in the time that it takes for the overture to play to the opening number where we meet the characters who will probably leave some sort of impact on our lives.

When one buys a ticket to go see a show, he or she doesn’t think about how the staff at the theatre will treat him or her, but after having one very bad experience this past weekend at the Al Hirschfeld theatre on Broadway, I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth and an important discussion in my head.

To give you a bit of background, my friend and I bought tickets to go see Kinky Boots on Broadway starring Brendon Urie, front man for the band Panic! At the Disco as soon as he announced that he would be taking on the role of Charlie in the show several months ago. To say that we were excited is an understatement- we love all things Broadway and Urie is our favorite singer. We jumped at the chance to see him in a live performance.

Our day in the city was as exciting as any, and the culmination of the day was lining up to get into the theatre to finally see the show. We expected that many of Mr. Urie’s fans would be at the performance. Melisa and I understood that some would be acquainted with the theatre and some would not, but at any rate, there was a strong chance of screaming teenagers in our forecast. We didn’t mind so much about that, we knew what we had signed up for. What we did not account for, however, was the horrible attitude we received from one of the ushers inside the theatre when we were being seated for the show.

We walked into the theater and followed the usual protocol of bag check and being filed into a line to get into the doors, and met one usher who pointed us to the section in which we would be seated to another usher who would give us our playbills and show us to our specific seats. The first usher we met sent us to the wrong side of the section that our seats were in, and after walking over and reading the seats we knew we were in the wrong spot. While I have not worked in a Broadway theatre, I have been to many and have been an usher in many other theatres and had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. The other usher was helping a different party at the time so we figured we’d just head back to the door that lead to the row in which we were seated. When we came back around, the first usher stopped us again and asked if we needed assistance to find our seats. My friend responded no, and that we just needed our playbills. This was when the other usher who resembled a younger, angrier Nathan Lane came forward.

He said “No, you do NOT know where you’re seated because if you did, you’d have your playbills because I would have given them to you” in one of the nastiest and condescending tones I have ever heard in my life. He then pointed us to our seats (which we were already standing next to), cut around us and said, “Here are your seats and here are your playbills, now let me go do my job” and left.

Melisa and I were absolutely appalled. We looked at each other as if to say, “Did he really just act like that?” Never have either of us been spoken to like that by anyone in a theatre, let alone an usher. I could not believe how we were just treated- it was nearly enough to put a damper on our entire day. Melisa and I were very polite and would’ve just allowed the ushers to seat us had we not been sent in the wrong direction in the first place, and we didn’t realize we were doing anything wrong by trying to seat ourselves. We were afraid to get out of our seats in fear of being snapped at again, and gave me a new idea for a film- Night of the Living Ushers.

But I digress. We waited and watched the ushers lead party after party to their seats, some met a very nice cheerful man and others encountered someone with an unnecessary amount of attitude.

I overheard one girl sitting in front of us saying to her father, “What did he just say to me? If it weren’t for the fact that it’s mom’s birthday, we would’ve had some words.” Out of curiosity, I stopped the girl on her way back from the refreshment stand and asked her what the usher had said to her. She told me that he led them to their aisle and she began to walk down it, and he turned to her and said something along the lines of “It’s not in my job description to allow people to seat themselves, next time wait and just let me do my job” in his nasty, condescending tone. It took all I had in me to stop myself from confronting the man for treating the patrons in such a disrespectful way.

However, I’m very glad I didn’t because I might’ve gotten thrown out of the theatre and missed out on such a tremendous and emotionally charged performance. (I highly recommend this show.)

While I can understand why an usher would be frustrated when patrons try to seat themselves as it is their job to do so, one must wonder why this one particular usher had such an attitude. Bad days aside, this is his job and one would think that a Broadway theater would be as accommodating to its guests as a five-star resort. Lord knows we spend enough money to see the shows.

At any rate, the situation could’ve been handled better. When a patron says, “I know where my seats are” and you’re still required to show them where they’re going, I feel like a simple, “Okay, but I’ll go with you to make sure so you don’t have to move later” would suffice.

Most of the other ushers I have encountered and worked with are patient and polite and seem to realize that the people they are helping find their seats are the sole reason that any of us in the theatre industry have jobs in the first place. I feel that there is a fine line that needs to be drawn between assisting the theatergoers to their seats and treating them like imbeciles who just need to be herded like cattle to their designated areas.

Overall, I was disappointed in the way that myself and others were treated at the Al Hirschfeld the other night and I hope that this is an issue that can be resolved soon so that theatregoers can get to experience the full beauty that is a Broadway show without having to worry about being talked down to by a cranky usher.