As I sit in one of the many empty seats in the theater where I usher I hear a mans voice jovially boom over all the stage hands walkie-talkie's -- "Hey, we're going to be in Cincinnati next Sunday. Anyone want to play whirlyball?"
I smile and lounge back further into the plush maroon chair, placing my black slipper shoes on the top of the chair in front of me. Yes, I am happy, I am in my theater watching the stage hands set the stage for the production of CATS that will be playing in a little over an hour, and I am happy.
This is my theater, where I have been ushering for six years. There is no greater peace in my life than when I am in my theater. There is no greater production for me than the one that plays before a show begins. The stage hands joking with one another onstage as they set the props and check and re-check the mechanical devices while the sound techs blast pop songs over the speakers. Sometimes people dressed all in black rush up and down the aisles to converse directly to the sound techs, usually about some problem that leave both people with furrowed brows.
I sometimes wonder if life can get any better than this, sitting in my theatre seat, watching all this transpire. But then the audience come in and my languid voyeuristic attitude changes to one of engaged activity. I love rushing up and down the aisles as I seat people. This is perhaps the only customer service job where it is as fun for the person doing as for the people who are being served because the latter are all so happy. They know they are about to be entertained. Sometimes we have regulars, usually people past the age of naivety who consequently no longer get much enjoyment from going to the theater. Also, they are often rich, another impediment to experiencing joy. And they ignore you when you ask if they need assistance or say brusquely, "No, I know where I am going." But that is really the worst I have to contend with and that, I know from my past experience in customer service, is hardly something to worry over.
During intermission today an older gentlemen of about 70 in a mechanical wheelchair was coming toward the door to enter into the theater with two open-drinks in his hands. Drinks are not allowed in the theater, so I had to reluctantly tell him that he could not come in until he finished the drinks, but one of them was for his wife, a woman also nearing -- if I may be so blunt -- death's door, and who I knew was mostly deaf and almost completely blind and whose cane did little to help her walk. I told the man I would get her so they could consume their drinks in the lobby. I felt bad that I could not let him go to his seat, as I knew his wife had trouble walking and that, frankly, it would be a bit of a hassle for me to worry about getting these two in before the show started again momentarily. But I went to the lady's seat and moved in very close to her and told her, in a raised voice, that her husband had a drink for her and that she would have to drink it in the lobby as no drinks were allowed inside the theater. She said, "Oh, dear, I told him not to get me anything," and I smiled and helped her get up. I offered to help her walk up the aisle, which at this moment was quite a hazard area with people walking down it to return to their seats. She took my arm and I walked slowly with her up the walk-way, trying to help her avert people, as she had just told me that she couldn't see the people in front of her very well. Eventually we made it and her husband gave her the drink. I continued a watch out for other people whose hands may be full of those dangerous liquids known as coke, diet coke, and sprite. Just before the curtain was to rise again (proverbially, as in this case there was no curtain, the stage being kept visible while a man dressed in a large fur outfit was, during the whole of the intermission, perched on the stage to amuse the audience), the lady had finished her drink and automatically took my arm for me to lead her down the aisle. I asked her if she was enjoying the show and she very jovially said that she was. She had never seen CATS before. I marveled over this, that at her age she had never seen it, and almost said to her -- "Well, it is certainly something to see before you die." Luckily today I was less featherbrained that I normally am and had the foresight to keep this thought to myself. Her husband soon followed on his electric scooter of sorts which he was able to park next to her in the chair-less space -- another task I am privy to before a show begins is the unscrewing of bolts to take away seats for wheel-chairs.
My third favourite part of the day is the applause which comes at the end of a show as the actors take their bows. Never fails to produce a feeling of euphoria in me. The theater is a place where people who don't know one another come together for a few hours to enjoy a communal experience. Although this sounds pedantic, I think it is true of theater: in a world that is full of so much that is fearful and soul-crushing, the theater is one place where one can go to escape "real life" for the (usually) more happy and fulfilling existence of a fictional world.