Like most creatives trying to survive, Actor and Playwright, Rachel Harper works Front of House. Here, she considers the pros, cons and ludicrousness of it all.
As I sit watching a two and a half hour glitz and glammer, jazz hands musical for the 48th time (yes, 48 times), I know every line, every routine and on the off chance the leading lady should be struck down with violent diarrhoea or an accidental fall through a trap door, I am all but ready to volunteer as tribute.
Finding a job that allows the flexibility to audition, that pays the bills and doesn’t crush your creative spirit is tricky and often feels impossible. Jobbing actors know the ins and outs of a call centre, how to make a caramel-soy-triple-skinny-moccachino and often how to convince a room full of five-year-olds that they are in fact, the real Elsa but knowing how to keep your love for the craft whilst balancing all of this, is an art form in itself.
This brings me to Front of House.
I fell straight out of Drama School and into London, a city that I wasn’t familiar with and miles from mates and family and ventured into my first bill payer: as an usher at a large West End theatre. At the time it was home to a bright and shiny musical (the songs of which are still burned into my brain) and I was suddenly immersed in this world full of incredible creatives – most of whom were not on the stage. They were behind the bar, holding programmes and taking tickets. Very quickly I had found myself this brilliant tribe of artists – people who understood when you came in heartbroken over yet another rejection. People who read sides with you for a self tape in the bar between shows. People to go out with for a pint (or several) at the Nell on a Saturday night. I will always be thankful for that first job. It gave me ambition, a network and a well needed social life. It also gave me a big boost in the form of my company: Missmanaged Theatre.
Working front of house is a cushty gig. Evening work, easy hours for the most part and the biggest bonus – a network of like-minded creatives. I met Catherine Chalk, fantastic actress and co-founder of Missmanaged whilst we were both taking tickets. We had a similar experience of the industry, in that we were both incredibly hungry but struggling to get in the door and so, we decided to pave our own way. Last month we closed the debut run of our flagship production, RATTLED (even receiving a cheeky Offie Nom!) so we feel we’ve definitely now done that.
This is the greatest part and biggest perk of FOH work for me. We’re all waiting for work! Maybe you’re a writer or a director doing stage door or an actor wanting to practice sight reading. If you’re on management’s good side (or if you have good managers) you might be able to wangle a bit of day-time space for a table read. Just make the most of it, look at the wonderful talent and resources around you and grab them/ it with both hands.
Sometimes, sitting in the dark for three hours after a nasty rejection can feel like a brutal, self inflicted punishment but every cloud has a silver lining. You are all in it together. You all get it. Yes, it can feel soul destroying watching your people, sometimes even classmates up on stage whilst you’re telling the man in L24 to stop taking pictures for the eighth time and I won’t lie, it is hell telling Barbara in the grand she can’t sing along when she is three dacquiries deep and no it is not that fun to be repeatedly asked where the toilet is (JUST READ THE FREAKING SIGN), but to have the opportunity to surround yourself with artists who understand and a timetable that allows you to have your days free to audition and enough money for a few pints after a rough shift, it is most certainly worth it. It’s the people who make a job what it is because god knows, it isn’t the patrons.
Are you a creative working Front of House and would like to read more articles by like-minded people? You’re in luck! Follow the link to read about Emma Bentley’s frustration after Rupert Goold’s controversial tweet on House Seat Wranglers and keep checking the site for more.