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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


OPINION: Theater staff can make or break the ideal Broadway experience

Tereza Rascon

Inside the Majestic Theatre during intermission of a Broadway performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” on Saturday, March 11. The theater, located in New York City at 245 W 44th St., will end its Broadway run of the show on April 16. 

For my spring break, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a theater dream of mine come true. I, along with my cousin and her boyfriend, traveled to New York City to watch the Broadway production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” one of Broadway’s longest-running musicals in history.

“The Phantom of the Opera” was my introduction to musical theater and was what started my love for theater as a whole. My love for this musical started out with the 2004 Joel Schumacher film adaptation of the musical and it culminated in seeing the production live at Centennial Hall when the touring company came to Tucson in 2015.

A dream amongst theater enthusiasts, however, is having the chance to watch a play on Broadway. Broadway is essentially the Super Bowl of theater.

But just like many football enthusiasts, it isn’t always possible to see a game in person due to cost restraints. This was especially the case for me, considering New York was literally across the country. So, I was content with satisfying my theater pleasures locally at Centennial Hall.

However, at the news that “The Phantom of the Opera” would be closing its curtains for the last time on April 16, I thought that my dream of seeing this production on Broadway was crushed. But, after a conversation with my cousin — where I half-joked about going by myself to see the show — she suggested that we both pitch in to see the musical together. After realizing she wasn’t joking, that’s when the planning began, and the saving and the booking, until finally the day had come.

Surely this was going to be a magical experience. I was going to be surrounded by fellow theater enthusiasts and we would all share this communal experience of watching Andrew Lloyd Webber’s creation come to life before our eyes.

We had amazing seats, Front Mezzanine, which overlooked the stage. We could see the stage so clearly and could see every detail of the actors.

The lights dimmed, the orchestra began to play and I happily awaited for my life-long dream to come to fruition. And for five minutes, I was engrossed by the magic of the theater. But soon, the magic was ruined.

We were approached by an usher who began yelling at us to get out of our seats. The tone in her voice was reminiscent of a parent scolding a child. At first, I was confused, wondering if she was talking to someone else in our row. But then she loudly spoke out our seat numbers and demanded we follow her to the back of the theater.

Scenarios began to run through my mind. My first thought and greatest fear was that, somehow, our tickets were counterfeited. We were going to get kicked out of the theater. Dread and anxiety filled my body.

Without being given a reason, we all got out of our seats and followed the usher. I remember feeling so embarrassed. I was already getting emotional when the “Overture” was playing, but suddenly I was expected to put those emotions on pause. My attention was now focused on figuring out what was going on.

Once we got to the back, the usher demanded we show her our tickets. Still, we were left wondering what was going on and the usher made no attempt to clarify the situation. But soon enough, we got our answer.

Apparently, a family who arrived late to the show had approached another usher stating that my family and I were sitting in their seats. Without checking their tickets, the usher trusted their word and had another usher kick us out of our seats and put that family straight into our seats.

My family received an insincere apology from the usher checking our tickets. We got none from the other usher, nor were given any acknowledgment of the major inconvenience this situation had caused.

The chaos didn’t end there. The usher then went to get the family out of our seats and they refused. Roughly 15 minutes had passed since the musical began and my family and I were forced to watch the performance from the aisle.

This was not how I imagined my experience going. I came into this theater, excited and thrilled, but now I was sitting in the aisle feeling like a criminal even though I didn’t do anything wrong.

We eventually were able to get back to our seats, but I knew that it wouldn’t be the same. While I was able to get drawn back into the musical, my mind still kept racing back to that experience and questions filled my brain.

Why didn’t that usher check that family’s tickets in the first place? Why was my family immediately assumed to be in the wrong? Why did she immediately put that family in our seats before checking my family’s tickets? What about that family made them more trustworthy than us?

Not even a minute after the performance ended, the ushers were all quickly rushing patrons to leave. We didn’t even have a chance to absorb the moment before we were being scurried out like cattle.

While I understand that there are stresses that come from managing such a huge production, there are people in that theater that have paid thousands of dollars and traveled thousands of miles, just to spend three hours watching their favorite musical on Broadway.

After returning back to Tucson and venting to my colleagues about my experience, I went to write a review of my experience on TripAdvisor. Curious to see if my experience was unique, I looked through the other reviews only to find out this behavior was common!

To name a few examples, a person under the username of Kansas88 wrote, “And lastly, maybe it’s that New York “rudeness” that Midwest folks were taught is NOT appropriate or maybe this is a long-standing tradition for Broadway (hopefully not), but I found the staff to be extremely and unnecessarily rude.”

Another reviewer made a similar comment to the one I made about the conclusion of the show, under the username ncbeachgirl14, “What I can’t believe is how staff became so agitated and abusive to the patrons after the play was over. “The theater is closed!” “No more pictures!” “Everyone get out!” Literally yelling and screaming at all of us.”

There was even another review made by a person under the username Isabellatravels2000 that described a similar issue to what my family experienced with another staff member. “After a mistake regarding seating, he spoke to us in a very aggressive manner and made many students feel intimidated and threatened.”

Broadway as a whole struggled to stay afloat during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Broadway managed to survive, it came with costs. And as stated before, after 35 years, “The Phantom of the Opera” would be closing, mostly due to the low-ticket sales during the aftermath of the pandemic. Even though Broadway is very much aware of how fickle this industry is and how important patrons are in keeping this industry alive, I’m shocked at the accepted behaviors of staff at these theaters.

Granted, I’ve only been to the Majestic Theatre, but if the treatment I received was present at a theater where the longest-running musical was home to, it only makes me wonder how the other theaters compare.

It’s disheartening to see so many people have tainted experiences because of the rude and careless manner of staff members. I love musical theater, and I’m a huge advocate for this industry, but how can theater enthusiasts be expected to continue support when it’s evident that we aren’t being appreciated?

I’ve never dealt with such treatment by a local theater like Centennial Hall. All of my experiences there have been extremely positive and the staff there made the experience of theater-going as memorable and welcoming as the performance I was paying to see.

How is Broadway expecting theatergoers to travel all over the world to see their productions when they can’t manage to have staff treat patrons with the most basic level of courtesy?

I hope to spark a conversation about this because in no way should it be acceptable for a live theater organization as highly respected and commercialized as Broadway to sacrifice patron respect for profit, as Broadway brings in over $845 million in revenue per year.

I fear that Broadway, or at least those managing the theaters in this district, have lost sight of the true purpose of theater.

Until Broadway remembers how to treat patrons with the basic respect we’ve earned, I recommend all theatergoers, especially those in Arizona, to stick with attending your local theaters to satisfy your theater pleasures. Even though the Broadway performance I attended itself was marvelous and breathtaking, it’s not worth spending thousands of dollars to be treated like you’re a nuisance. 

Follow Tereza Rascon on Twitter

Tereza Rascon (she/her) is a senior majoring in English. She enjoys reading, writing and watching the latest movies and shows. 

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