Monday, October 05, 2009

A Word on Customer Service

I consider theatre to be not only an art, but also a convoluted form of customer service. After all, without the audience, aren't we performing in a void? And by performing in a void, I mean just playing pretend. Without someone to watch you, you're just walking around like a crazy person. Once you have an audience, you are officially telling a story.

There's so much that goes into that these days. I sometimes long for the theatre of ancient Greece - although even then I'm sure the actors got a note if the audience couldn't hear. Now we play in all sorts of different spaces, with good or rotten sound, good or rotten sight lines, good or rotten audiences. And sometimes, a good or rotten show. Yet every night we put it out there; the story that is our product - and hope that the audience, who has already bought it, enjoys it.

I consider my particular job a bigger form of customer service because I'm always "on" for the company, for the local crew, for the audience members who complain, and for the house managers and so forth.

Last night a charming gentleman charged his way backstage by claiming he had a "press pass," something I hadn't been warned about, and made straight for the Equity dressing rooms. I intercepted him and politely guided him to the green room to wait for an actor who was willing to do a last-minute interview. Because the man was so taken with the show and writes for a local paper, it was especially important that he be treated well and not kicked out or berated for coming backstage to speak with half-naked actors - especially when that is the norm for the space. He was also extremely polite and kind. So not only are we artists "selling" our product, we are also guests in the space and must be bendable to its rules.

I was happy with how everyone handled the situation, and proud that we were all "on" for this local man, who promises to write a wonderful review.

Because I try to put out the effort to be professional, friendly and - well, nice, I wanted to tell a couple of stories of people who, in the last couple of days, put in no such effort at all. These are the first impressions in the world I had of these people, and how I will remember them, when I think of them at all. It made me make note to myself to consider carefully how I want to be remembered when I leave a place. So here they are:

...The local crewman whose first words to us were to happily tell of a time in Texas when he got out his pellet gun and killed five mockingbirds because there were "so many."

...The same crewman who told nominally funny, dirty jokes to our female crew at the end of load out. Out of our working brand of politeness, he even got a couple of courtesy laughs.

...The hotel manager who felt it was okay to discipline her staff in front of customers in the lobby. Situation: I was eating my breakfast and this woman was having a lengthy conversation with the front desk attendant about the state of Clutter behind the desk. The important issue escalated into raised voices and hurt feelings. I felt as if I was watching a badly written reality TV show... Hotels: Check Out!

I wonder if the woman realizes that people are generally less concerned with clutter behind the front desk as they are with awkwardly overhearing management berating their employees (and all because "clutter" is below this hotel's standard). I told this to other company members and they all had little stories of their own in a similar vein.

I actually found it amusing. The front desk situation, that is. The crewman in question from last night just left a bad feeling in my belly. Certainly he comes from a different background, but for your first funny story to crew of To Kill a Mockingbird be about killing mockingbirds...?

In other words:

If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully. -Kahlil Gibgran

1 comment:

Lauren said...

People in this country shock and awe me - in both the best and worst possible ways.