A Very, Very, Very Fine House

I volunteered as Center Players’ house manager last night and saw “I’m Not Rappaport” again. It was the best performance I’ve seen so far. The audience was so responsive to the action onstage that the energy was palpable. The applause at the end of the play was accompanied by hoots and whistles as the actors took their well-deserved bows. People left with smiles on their faces and their accolades and great mood were our reward.

But that’s not my reason for blogging today. In my last blog I mentioned volunteering as House Manager, and quite a few people asked me to explain what a House Manager does. This is actually my first time house managing, so I can only tell you what it’s like from a novice’s point of view.

Center Playhouse, home of the Center Players

Linda Saunders, who produced “I’m Not Rappaport” is also new to Center Players. When Bob Szita asked her if she wanted to house manage, she asked him what was involved. Bob said, “Basically, you greet people at the door.” Linda replied, “Well, I love chatting with people. Count me in!” He left out a few basics in that short conversation, which Linda learned about on her first day. We still laugh about it whenever we meet up.

First of all, the “house” is the theater itself. The House Manager is responsible for the building and the people within. Crowd control, safety, and comfort. Bob gave me a 6-page manual that he wrote on house managing. The extent of the work surprised me because I, too, was unaware as to the depth of the job.

Aside from the public relations aspect of the job (the only aspect mentioned to Linda in that initial conversation), the House Manager is also the superintendent of the building and takes care of all aspects to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort. From opening the doors to locking up at night, the temperature, cleanliness and crowd control are in his/her hands.

Yes, cleanliness. Armed With a sanitizing spray, gloves and a huge wad of paper towels, I tackled the “bathroom patrol” portion of the job and learned that I can hold my breath for two whole minutes at a time.

The house manager trains and assists the ushers, if needed. The show doesn’t start until the House Manager ensures that everyone is in their seats. When the House Manager announces “house ready” in the headset, the stage manager takes over and the onstage action begins. At this point, the House Manager can kick off his/her shoes and enjoy the first act of the show until intermission.

At intermission, crowd control is the main issue. Center Players offers free refreshments and there is always a line for coffee and cake. Quite a few patrons step outside too. We mingle with the audience to find out their thoughts about the production and see if there’s a couple of future volunteers, ripe for the picking. The cast also takes a short break. It’s the House Manager’s job, along with the stage manager, to make sure that the audience and cast are back in their places after 15 minutes.

After intermission, the House Manager can kick off her shoes again and enjoy the second act. But after the cast takes their bows, the House Manager works the hardest. We make sure that the last audience member is out the door, check that all the headsets are recharging and the machines are shut down. We clean the theater, straighten the chairs, make sure the concession area is in order, change the signs, shut all the lights and finally lock the door for the night. The theater is now ready for the next performance and we join the actors at the local watering hole to discuss and celebrate the evening.

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