Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Buying Theatre Tickets

I've grown up working in retail and food and have never strayed too far away from doing theatre jobs like ushering, ticket services, and the like. They all have one thing in common.

The dreaded 'customer.'

Simultaneously our livelihood and the bane of our existence, the Customer is a curious animal: perpetually confused, rarely on time, easily provoked into anger, and lacking sophisticated communication skills in conveying wants and needs. They also seem to have a constant insistence that they are the victim. They are the victim of a cruel system and everyone is out to get them. I try my best to help others who work in similar jobs to mine by being someone they can vent to, I try to help put problem customers in perspective, and being a constantly affirming presence reminding them that each customer is a temporary occurrence in our lives and that they, like all things, do not last forever.

This article is not for them. This article is an open invitation to the people we serve everyday. I am inviting you to read, to learn, to be open to criticism, and to be better for it.

I know the title is a bit misleading. Unfortunately, this isn't a guide on how to find the best deals on tickets. It's simply a far more important guide on how to not make people whose lives are already miserable infinitely more miserable by being a dick. I can't believe people actually have to write these things. No one should have to tell you how to be a decent human being. Your attitude, what you give to the world, speaks volumes. Some people lack the self-awareness to correct these things and some people lack the self-respect to see the reasoning behind not pissing off people ("this is just how I am. Deal with it") and I find these people disgusting. I'm an asshole sure, but I'm not always an asshole. Courtesy, tact, consideration of others, and self-awareness go a long, long way.

These are suggestions, take them as you will. But just know, you could quite literally make someone's day if you treat every transaction in this way.

As with all of my recollections of customer service exchanges, any quotes I use are 100% real.

Rule #1: Be As Prepared As You Can

Right off the bat, I can pinpoint the earliest moment ticket transactions break down:
Hapless Patron: "Hi, I'd like to buy tickets."
Me: "Okay, for what show?"
Hapless Patron: "I don't know the name of it."
How? How the crap?
You wouldn't try and pull that shit at a movie theater. Can you imagine?
Hapless Movie Enthusiast: "Hi, two tickets please."
Me, as a Movie Usher: "For what movie?"
Hapless Movie Enthusiast: "Oh, I didn't know you had to know the name of it."
(I'm also wearing a bellhop's hat in this scenario, for some reason.)

This isn't a game show where I'm the contestant who has to guess what you want.
That would make for a terrible game show, and predictably, it makes for a terrible experience in real life.
If you go and try and buy a product and you don't know the name of it, we can't help you.
Some good Samaritan may try and attempt the $100,000 Pyramid with you, but most will not. I guarantee you that no one in retail is paid enough to account for your laziness.

  • Know what show you are buying tickets for!
  • Know what day you want to go. Have at least a couple backup days in mind.
    Most systems don't allow me to see what days are sold out.
    So when I say, "What day would you like to go?" you don't get to say, "What's the best day?"
    I don't know that. You tell me the day, and I'll tell you if that's a bad day or not. I know sometimes at restaurants you can say to the waiter, "What do you recommend?" but generally (always) you just order your own damn food, because that's how that works.
  • Know how many tickets you need. You can always add tickets later, unless we sell out. No, we can't hold tickets unpaid for you. Yes, I do mind if you stand here in front me while you call and text your friends and then wait for them to get back to you. Yes, you are asking about too many things.
  • Bottom line: don't come to order tickets until you're fully prepared to answer all the most basic questions. Even if you think it's gonna sell out before that time, you're wasting far more time by not being prepared.
Bonus Tip: Be aware, most shows do not run on Mondays. Stop asking if we have Monday shows. Also, if I say, "We have matinees on Saturdays and Sundays," your next question should not be, "No matinees during the week?" Which actually serves as a beautiful segue into my next point...

This is just a sample of what people have asked for. A sample. Of just this season.

Rule #2: WE are here to help YOU.

Ticketing services is exactly that: a service. A customer service. We are here to serve you, get you your tickets, help with what we can, and get you on your way as quickly as possible. (Okay, admittedly, that last part is more for us. You're annoying.)

So please, PLEASE, stop acting like we are actively working against you. I ask you: WHO the hell benefits from ME, a person working for this company, denying YOU the service necessary for us to survive as a business? It makes no sense. We are not the enemy.

This rule covers all manner of sins, but it really just boils down to this:
Your attitude is the first real roadblock to a successful transaction: so drop it, learn to take us at our word, and stop treating us like we're liars and manipulators, winged soldiers in the army of the dark demon Abaddon.

I don't know about everyone, but I definitely take each customer as an individual. What do I mean by that? I mean, that if one person comes to my window and they are despicable, steaming, stinking, piles of human garbage and they leave me hating both mine and their existences, I don't treat the very next customer like an equal pile of human garbage. Why? Because each person's a goddamn snowflake.
No but really, I don't let my experience carry over to the next transaction. If I didn't, I would've lasted at this job...oh...3 days.
So the least you can do is extend me the same courtesy.
When you are immediately on the offense, and say things to me like, "I'm not standing in that line, that's just another chance for someone else to ignore me", "No one's ever able to help me here. That's why I hate coming here", and "I don't trust box offices. Last time I gave my number to a box office, I had to change numbers."
Look, first of all, I don't believe any of those and you're full of it. Second of all, if it did happen, that was one time. We're not talking a one-time traumatic experience that led you to stop swimming in water ever again. We're talking about a weird situation that yeah, while frustrating, is not some sort of norm. You should know better. Be better. Be smarter.

On a smaller scale, but this goes right along with it, we mean what we say. There's no secret password, no key to this. If I say, "We're sold out," that means there are no tickets left. If you follow up with, "Not even one ticket left?" that doesn't change the definition of sold out. So when I say we're sold out, and especially if I say, "We're sold out for the rest of the run," then you and I are done. That is the end of our interaction. You can say thank you (that'd be nice, but most people don't) but that's it. These questions and phrases won't change that answer:
"We don't have to sit together."
"Wait, like, completely sold out?"
"But you had tickets yesterday."
"Wait, really?"
"Are you sure?"
Sometimes, it's genuine shock, and those I'm willing to forgive, but I know the difference.
Me, interacting with someone who is genuinely shocked:
Me: We're sold out.
Hapless Patron: Really?
Me: Yeah, I'm sorry...
Hapless Patron: That's okay.
(What they really should say though is, "That's okay. You've been very helpful. I'm the dumb one who waited too long to get tickets and shouldn't have been silly enough to think it wouldn't sell out. I should prepare for all possibilities.")
Someone who is actually angry or confused or not understanding the concept that there are other people in the world who bought tickets though, doesn't stop and instead goes like this:
Me: We're sold out.
Hapless Patron: Really?
Me: Yeah, I'm sorry...
Hapless Patron: You mean, there are no tickets left whatsoever?
Me: ..........................Yeah. That's what sold out means.
Hapless Patron: Every last one.
Me: ..........................Oh, I forgot. Sold out means I have one left. Here you go. It's free too. Congratulations, you broke the code. You have to annoyingly ask for the same thing three times after already being told no. You get the secret ticket. Along with this gold brick. Have the soul of my first child.
Bonus Tip: Just because you know the term "house seat" doesn't mean I can sell you that. All you get for that is a, "Congratulations. You know an 'insider' term." Those aren't on sale for a reason and you don't have to know those reasons. If you "know someone" and you can get house seats, good for you. Go get them, then. You don't know anyone. Because then you wouldn't be at the window yelling at a minimum wage worker. Speaking of reasons...

Rule #3: You Don't Have to Know Everything

Please don't mistake this for going back on my #1 rule. What I mean by this is: I'm sure there are why's for why things happen the way they do, but guess what, you are not entitled to any of them.

Why was this show cancelled?
Why do we have to wait in line?
Why do you need my information?
Why didn't the show start on time?
Why are my ears bleeding?

I'll just be honest, most of the time, we in the box office are not even privy to the information about why something happens. It's a higher-up's decision, and something not having to do with us caused that decision to be made. And sometimes we are made privy to that information, and then explicitly told that we do not share it with the general public. So yeah, sometimes when we say, "I'm sorry, I don't know what happened," we're lying. But that is because if we say, "We're not allowed to give out that information," you think there's some way to egg it out of us. Well, don't. Like I said, the vast majority of the time, we don't know. And one of the harsh realities we have to face in life is that most of the time, things happen without a reason. So deal with it.

My line on it is: if it really doesn't affect you either way, then you don't need to know. It's not for your edification. You're not going to remember it when you walk out the door. Who cares?

In particular, it bothers me when people ask about a show getting cancelled. You get a refund, and an apology. Do you really need to know every damn detail about what happened to the performer, or whatever? Not really. Most of the time, I've noticed people will ask me why a show got cancelled and then they judge the reason.
For all my actor friends, just so you know, I can tell you from audience reaction that your physical health is not a reason to cancel a show. Nothing short of your own death is good enough reason, and I'm not even sure that's sufficient. The number of dirty looks and headshakes I get from that reason is astounding.
I love that people never question "technical difficulties." I don't know whether that's a comment more on audiences believing tech people are in over their heads or that actors being incapable of doing their jobs is an imaginary problem. But I guess I'll save that discussion for another time.

Oh, and if your ears are bleeding. You should find out why that's happening. Doctors should tell you. Get that checked out.

Rule #4: You Are Not Entitled To Anything

I want to make something clear that isn't often said. This is me speaking from a purely pragmatic standpoint. From an artistic, philosophical, romantic side, yes, of course I believe theatre is necessary, good for the soul, an amazing experience everyone should have, and should be accessible to everyone.

But speaking realistically:
Theatre is a luxury. You do not have to go to it, and therefore, you are not entitled to any sort of special treatment.

Do you think the ticket price is too expensive? Don't get a ticket.
Do you think you're on hold on the phone too long? Don't call anymore.
Do you think you shouldn't have to pay fees? Do you complain at the grocery store when they add tax?
Do you think your seats are bad? You can leave.
Did you not enjoy/agree with the show? That sucks.

Guess what, you live in the first world. There are people who will never experience theatre. The experience is not perfect, nothing ever is. Everyone tries their best. We can't please everyone.

I'm sure there are valid things to complain about in a theatrical experience. I'm sure there are. I don't know any, none come to mind, none are strong enough that I would feel compelled to actually complain about it.
It especially bothers me when someone says that they've been to a lot of theatre. That doesn't give you any sort of right to complain, that just should make you more able to understand.

I also get bothered by people who think their status gets them something more. If you are someone who actually warrants a, "Do you have any idea who I am?" then chances are you have far better means of snagging tickets than coming to the box office and buying them. I don't treat anyone any differently at the window, not because they don't deserve it, but because no one deserves it. If you're coming to the window expecting me to just hand you a free ticket to a show that's sold out and has been sold out for weeks, just because you once donated $2000 or whatever, I'll say the same thing I say to everyone else: "We're sold out."

If Sir Ian McKellen can order his own tickets online, stand and wait in the will call line, then pick them up with his own credit card under his own name, then so can everyone else. 

So there you have it.
Is it so much to ask that when you're planning a trip to the theater, you make everyone's lives easier by being prepared, enjoy it by not being an asshole, and always treating it as a privilege?
I love the theatre. I want you to experience it. I want to help you experience it. But you need to meet me halfway. You need to either accept that you know nothing and allow me to guide you, or get your shit together and do it all yourself so you never have to interact with another human being.
But especially, don't complain. What good is complaining?
If you really think you were done an injustice and that this is how we treat everyone, we wouldn't be in business.
No one customer ever took down a company by themselves.
Except Erin Brockovich.

And oh yeah, Julia Roberts waited in line for her tickets too.