Ryan Tyler-Smith, theatre manager

 3 October 2012

Ryan Tyler-Smith is front-of-house manager for South-East London's Greenwich Theatre.

"Theatre front-of-house is all about customer care. The best way to improve those skills is through constant practice."

Hometown?

I was born in Greenwich in South-East London and have lived in Brockley most of my adult life.

What job do you do?

I'm a front-of-house manager at the Greenwich Theatre in London.

What previous jobs in theatre have you done? 

Before I worked in theatre, I worked as a film production assistant, and sometimes as an assistant camera operator, on a freelance basis.

"Theatre front-of-house is all about customer care. The best way to improve those skills is through constant practice."

Eventually I reached a point in time where I had just finished a freelance contract and was working on a few independent film projects with other filmmakers. I needed some extra income to supplement what I was doing.

I knew that I wanted to continue to work in the creative industries. I've always loved theatre for the thrill of watching live performance. I began looking at theatres within my area online. I applied to what seemed to me to be the most innovative and exciting theatre in my area – Greenwich Theatre. It worked, and I was employed as a front-of-house usher.

I enjoyed the work so much that I found myself working every shift I could. It was more stable than my previous freelance work, and the bonus of being able to watch performances for free was very enticing. I learned everything I could about every department in the theatre.

After six months I was promoted to bar manager, and then after some time to duty manager. When my manager left just before our very busy pantomime period, she recommended I be considered as a temporary front-of-house manager until a replacement could be found.

I worked long days and learned as much as I could about the role, as quickly as I could. Once the pantomime period was over, I was asked to apply for the role full-time.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a BA degree in media culture and communication technology from the University of Greenwich and an MA degree in video technology and documentary film.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A storyteller. A filmmaker just telling great stories, like Steven Spielberg!

What do you do all day?

I'm responsible for all front-of-house operations at Greenwich Theatre.

What I do day to day is quite broad. My work includes:

  • Recruiting and training all front-of-house staff
  • Overseeing the small businesses which operate within the theatre, like the bar and café
  • Making sure visiting theatre companies have everything they need when they arrive. Most theatre companies send us a document called a ‘Technical Rider’ before they arrive, which contains this information.
  • Organising signed and audio-described performances

In the lead-up to a performance, here are some of the things I do: 

  1. Any notices that may need to be displayed in the front-of-house area must be prepared. We may need to warn audience members about adult content in a performance, strobe lighting, or other effects that some patrons might find unsettling.
     
  2. While my team open up the bar and other facilities, I perform health and safety checks within the building to make sure it is clean, tidy and safe.
     
  3. Once the audience are seated and I am satisfied that the performance can begin, I stand in front of the audience and welcome them to the theatre. I then politely remind people to switch off mobile phones and that photography of the performance is prohibited, along with any information about the performance that I feel they may need to know. 
     
  4. I then give the technical team clearance to start the performance. This is a crucial duty, as the technical team cannot and will not start the performance until the front-of-house manager has indicated that it is safe and reasonable to do so.

Once the show begins, I remain on duty throughout the evening.

What’s the best thing about your job?

As we are a receiving house, we host touring theatre rather than developing any in-house. We have a wide variety of different people and characters walking through our doors. I get to meet some wonderful characters, and no two weeks are the same.

I work in a extremely creative environment, and that makes it a real pleasure to come to work.

And the worst thing about the job?

Working front-of-house, you do tend to work very unsociable hours. A lot of my work takes place throughout the evening, and I work a lot of weekends too.

This can make it a tad more difficult to organise your social life, but it’s an inevitable part of the job.

How do I get into theatre?

Direct experience is the key to getting your foot in the door in theatre. Apply to be an usher at your local theatre or arts centre. Apply to lots of theatres within your area if need be, but be prepared to work your way up.

Once you’ve got your first usher role, you'll be in a key position to learn everything about how the theatre works. Be enthusiastic and work as much as you can. Theatre front-of-house is all about customer care – and the best way to improve those skills is through constant practice.

Above all, be proactive. Always volunteer to do all and any tasks that arise. Enthusiasm, confidence and a willingness to learn are good points to start from. Stick with those, and you’ll be running your own front-of-house department before you know it.


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