Yolanda M, theatre usher

 23 May 2013

What does a theatre usher do and why is it a popular way to enter into theatre? Yolanda, who previously ushered at the Young Vic theatre, explained what her role involved.

"You're a part of theatre, whether you're on stage or sitting in the audience." Image: Yolanda Mercy.

What is your home town?

I live in London.

What qualifications did you do?

At the age of 14, I went to Brit School, a free performing arts school. It teaches core subjects – like English, Maths, Science, languages and IT – but the great thing is that their Drama and Dance classes are run by professionally trained dancers and actors.

"Customers are either regular theatre-goers or have never seen a show."

Along with GCSEs, I earned a BTEC First in Dance and a BTEC National Diploma in Dance. I decided to study at a conservatoire, where I got my BA in Dance theatre at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

What work experience have you done?

I learnt to dance from a young age at the Royal Academy of Dance, where I took classes in ballet and jazz. 

While studying at the conservatoire, I did at summer voluntary internship in New York for two weeks, doing administration and watching rehearsals. We got involved with a youth project too, which ended with a group performance on stage!

After graduating, I performed in the Lyric Hammersmith pantomime and I performed onstage at Shakespeare's Globe theatre.

As acting work is not consistent, most actors will support their creative work with temporary or short-term work. I did some paid TIE – touring in education – work in schools, teaching special subjects.

I saw the opportunity to join the usher team on the Young Vic theatre website and applied.

What does an usher do?

The role is focussed on customer service – you're the first person to greet customers. You help them with their questions, show them to their seats and make sure that they have an enjoyable theatre experience.

The whole team has a brief at the beginning of a show's run. This is where we talk about the play that's being performed.

"As acting work is never constant, most actors support their creative work with temporary or short-term work."

Individually, you also get briefed before you start your shift. Theatre ushers usually work in shifts that cover matinee and evening performances.

Your team leader manages you and other theatre ushers. They will tell you if any audience members might need special attention – for example, customers in wheelchairs, or people with special access needs.

During the performance breaks, you could be selling drinks and food, or selling programmes. Also, you are the first person to deal with any problems that happen in the audience.

What's the best thing about being an usher?

You get to watch the theatre shows for free. It's the same show happening each night, but you can see how the actors change their acting in each performance.

Sometimes, the actor's performance doesn't go as planned. It's a great learning experience to watch the actor responding to unplanned situations on stage.

The shift times are flexible, so if you're acting or working elsewhere, it gives you financial support.

What's the worst thing?

After a show's run, there may not be more shows immediately. When this happens – and you're not acting elsewhere – you need to find another job to earn money.

I've found temping work agencies helpful for getting short-term office jobs.

How do I get into theatre?

Five tips for becoming an usher are:

1) Be friendly

You need to be friendly when speaking to people as you don't know if they are comfortable with the theatre. I've found that customers are either regular theatre-goers or have never seen a show.

Being friendly does not mean you treat everyone like your best mate. You need to be professional.

I read people's body language as it helps me figure out if people are warming to me.

2) Don't take bad days to heart

Learning how to be calm can help in a stressful situation. Communication is the key – if you're not listening to a complaint, the situation will not get better.

If someone is rude, don't dwell on it or take it to heart – the chances are that it has nothing to do with you. The worst thing you can do is take it out on someone else.

You’re the first person a customer sees, so you need to seem happy to be there and leave a good impression.

3) Be passionate 

The job is not just about ushering – you also learn about working in a theatre. Every theatre has their own way of ushering, so it's good to research.

Have a chat with ushers already working in a theatre you're interested in, and ask them some questions.

4) Use your instincts

Ushering can be stressful when problems come up in the audience. The show needs to start on time and you want to limit disruption to other customers.

In these situations, you need to assess the situation and make quick judgements. If you're not sure, use your instincts to guide you to the most sensible thing to do.

5) Have conversations

Rather than saying the same welcome to everyone, have a real conversation with everyone you meet – as this benefits everybody.

It gives you a chance to learn something about the customer, and it shows you have an interest in them. 

Why is theatre important?

Theatre is a live exchange between people and you're a part of theatre, whether you're on stage or sitting in the audience.

As an audience member, you get to see the world of the play, by watching the performers on stage.

Yolanda has moved on to be an actress and writer. Visit her website Yolanda Mercy.

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