HOW THEATER MANAGERS MANAGE
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part I: Theater: The Way It Was, The Way It Is and The Way It Is Becoming
Chapter One: Theater and Theater Managers
Chapter Two: The Cast of Characters
Chapter Three: The Show Must Go On
Chapter Four: Front of House
Chapter Five: The Theater Building
Chapter Six: Unions
Chapter Seven: Customers and Employees
Part II: Financial Considerations
Chapter Eight: Budgeting Theater Cost for an Engagement
Chapter Nine: Gross Potentials and Ticket Prices
Chapter Ten: Show Contracts
Chapter Eleven: Box Office
Chapter Twelve: Settlements
Part III: Career Development
Chapter Thirteen: The Drama Off-Stage
Chapter Fourteen: Management and Imagination
Chapter Fifteen: Managerial Imagination
Chapter Sixteen: Industry Interviews
Chapter Seventeen: Managers—In Our Own Words
Appendices: Nuts and Bolts
Appendix A: Specs Package
Appendix B: Emergency and Security Procedures
Appendix C: Building forms
Appendix D: Show and Performance Forms
Appendix E: Budget
It was like any other night in the theater. On November 29, 1933 several customers arrived early to purchase tickets to the operetta Show Boat. Twenty-five-year-old Hewlett Tarr checked his watch after selling tickets to a tuxedoed man and his fur-coated companion. As soon as the show started he planned to call his mother and tell her he was on his way home. She was preparing a special Thanksgiving dinner for him and his girlfriend Dorothy Reed. In only a few more weeks Dorothy would become his wife.
The producer, Howard Lang, and the show manager, Lee Parvin, stood behind him, engaged in conversation, causing Tarr to lean forward in order to talk to the next customer. He liked this time of night. Less than an hour before the show began at San Francisco's Curran Theatre was like the beginning words of a fairy tale, "Once upon a time." For the audience, it was magic. For him, it was a job. Maybe there was a little bit of magic, and he knew the next evening it would all start again.
Tarr looked up at the deep mahogany-colored ceiling which gave the lobby a rich, warm feeling. Built in 1922, the Geary Street theater was an intimate playhouse designed by Homer Curran, San Francisco's theater impresario. Suddenly, a slender dark-haired man with a pencil-thin mustache pushed to the front of the ticket line. A sharp crack sounded.
"What was that?" Tarr called out. "My God! I've been shot!" He stumbled backward, fell down a small flight of steps and collapsed. By the time the first person reached him, he was dead.
Edward Anderson ran from the Curran lobby and hopped a cab to Geary and 18th Avenue, where he robbed the Koffee Kup restaurant of $60. Several weeks later, he held up the Bank of America at Geary and Jones of $1,951, and wounded a policeman in a shoot-out. Once in custody, the twenty-five-year-old, $14-a-week electrician claimed his obsession with a new girlfriend was the reason for his life of crime. "I couldn't do much on $14 a week," Anderson said. "So I quit my job and started hoisting" [heisting].
Anderson was tried and convicted in record time. The San Francisco Chronicle headlines boldly read: CURRAN KILLER MUST HANG! By December 30, 1933, he faced a death sentence for the murder of Hewlett Tarr, and was incarcerated at San Quentin Prison until hanged on February 15, 1935. He lies buried in the infamous Boot Hill.
In 1933, The San Francisco Chronicle printed the killer's story, in his own words. The focus of other articles from that time are on Anderson's love life, his unfortunate friendship with a cohort who encouraged his life of crime, and his own pitiful pleas that the shooting was an accident. After the initial reports of the tragedy, Hewlett Tarr is rarely referenced.
The Marin Independent Journal's 1986 article about the unfortunates buried in Boot Hill mentioned Tarr, but it is Anderson's picture printed along with a photo of the cemetery. The killer was the star. Tarr was noted only as a name, even mistakenly identified as a usher, as a person shot by an automatic pistol from the distance of two feet, a footnote. His life and work were unexplored, and after so many years, are forgotten (Allen A1, "Crowds" 1, "Jury" 1, "Slayer of" 1, "Slayer Tells" 1).
Unfortunately, for most people who work in theater, the breadth of their work is unknown. Their names go down in history only when they take a bullet. Luckily, most of these bullets are not literal. Working in theater can be fraught with other kinds of bullets—from customers, bosses, co-workers, show personnel, or from the changing nature of the work itself. Sometimes the bullet is a simple misunderstanding of intent, or an ignorance of the way things work, or stepping into a situation of which you know nothing.
This was the situation I found myself in over twenty years ago when I accepted a job as the assistant manager of San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater. While recognizing the opportunity presented to me—and at age 22 it was a significant one that I might never have again—I knew little about theater management. Much of my learning was trial and error. At first more error than trial. But, as is often the case, one learns more from mistakes than successes.
I also found another truism—my situation was not unique. Others who worked in theater tell of similar experiences that of being thrown into a job and told to do it. Somehow, despite the lack of a theater management background, they figured out how. Marty Bell notes that, "Even in the best of times, working in the theatre is an irrational occupational choice" (xii). And yet, not only do many people still seek to work in theater, they remain involved in some aspect of this industry throughout their lives.
While this book cannot offer the level of personal involvement gained from mentorship, it is intended to be a stepping stone. Just as having a map makes a journey easier, I hope this information makes it possible for anyone beginning a career in theater management to walk into the theater and have a foundation on which to build, as well as a reference to turn to when in doubt. While my experience is in commercial theater, and much of this information addresses this type of venue, many of the ideas put forth can be applied to not-for-profit theater and facility management. While this book is from the perspective of the theater manager, I want to acknowledge that there are many people working in the theater building. There are theater employees and show's personnel. Each of these people could write their own book about how a theater and a show come together to create a theatrical experience.
I have included some experiences, memories, and ideas of other people who have worked in theater. One of the reasons I decided to do this project was that as a theater manager I was always in one place. Shows came to me. There is some advantage to being in the stability of a theater environment where you see many type of shows and observe many different show management styles. At the beginning of my career in my early twenties, the show managers that came to my theater were older. They had been in the profession for many years. As I got to know many of them, they told me stories, shared their experiences and opinions of the industry. After about ten years, there was a shift as many of them retired or became general manager and producers. The traveling company managers were younger then me and I ended up being the person with stories to tell. It is my hope to pass on some of them to theater managers who do not have the opportunity of travel or visit other theaters. It is unfortunate that outside of one's own city, theater managers rarely communicate with others in the profession in the same way that the show's managers tend to talk to each other about the theater and city where they will next visit.
In this book I have brought together the stories, beliefs, and experiences of some seasoned theater managers. Through these, a portrait and a concept will emerge depicting what they have unknowingly practiced throughout their careers. Theater is often known for its ability to "turn on the dime," that is, to put out its product at the available budget. Yet, cost is only one slice of the pie that forms the whole of theater. The way work is accomplished and problems are solved is through some of the most imaginative and ingenious methods that exist in business management. It is what I call Managerial Imagination.
In the story of the ticket-seller, the facts are simple. Shortly before the show began, Edward Anderson entered the theater lobby, shot and killed Hewlett Tarr. The reason I have such a special interest in this incident is that in 1982, forty-nine years after the death of Hewlett Tarr, I became the manager of San Francisco's Curran Theatre.