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Tracey Curzon-Manners: Second Act for Box Office Girl - Article, 2020

Title

Tracey Curzon-Manners: Second Act for Box Office Girl - Article, 2020

Date

16 April 2020

Description

Article written by Tracey Curzon-Manners, a former member of the Box Office team at the Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall Nottingham about her return to the venue to see a production of The Nutcracker in January 2020 and the memories it sparks.

What's the story?

Having previously worked in the box office at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tracey joined the team at the Theatre Royal and Concert Hall in January 1992. In 1995 she took part in a business/community related initiative lead by the then venue director, James Ashworth whose aim was to forge partnerships with local schools, a role she found particularly rewarding and engaging.
One of the benefits of working in theatre is being able to attend performances to advise customers of where the best seating might be and to this date, Blood Brothers, Slava’s SnowShow, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Woman In Black, Jesus Christ Superstar and anything by the Royal Shakespeare Company remain among her favourites, to name a few.
In 2008, Tracey began writing a blog under the pseudonym, Boxofficegirl. A Day In The Life Of… which she used to explore her experiences of what life in the box office is really like, chiefly amongst the staff but also based on the many colourful characters who frequented the theatre. She has also published various pieces online including prose and poetry and has written short pieces of drama, one of which - A Small Matter of the Heart – was performed by the local Youth Theatre.
Following an accident in 2014, she retired from her job but remains passionate about her love for the Theatre Royal and Concert Hall and the community she feels so fortunate to have worked alongside. They will always have a special place in her heart.
To date, she continues to write and is in the process of completing her first book which will no doubt include more stories from her time as a box office clerk.

Second Act For Box Office Girl.

"I can see ballet dancers behind the curtain!"
I look down to where my daughter is pointing at a gauze window in the blackout at the side of the stage and sure enough, dancers in full costume are going through their warm-up routines.
We're sitting in the second tier of the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham waiting for the matinee of The Nutcracker to begin and I study the lower levels with interest as the rest of the audience gradually files in checking seat numbers against their tickets. Tickets that I used to sell for both the Concert Hall and Theatre Royal and probably would still be selling had it not been for a freak accident nearly six years ago that robbed me of my speech and long term job in the box-office. This is the first time I've felt confident enough to attend a performance since.
To the left of the stage, I spy another break in the curtain and more dancers gathering. Behind them, the stage-door access I used on the rare occasion I was early for work and the doorman was late opening up the front where the box-office is situated. Despite being a long way round I always felt a pinch of pride if a member of the public noticed me entering the building via the stage-door, as though I might be a performer arriving for rehearsals rather than a clerk turning up for a shift. I'd nod hello to Dick on the stage-door whose vast wealth of knowledge included 'finishes 'bout ten,'plus other pearls of wisdom delivered monotone without breaking eye-contact with his copy of the local news.
A lot has changed in the years since I worked here. There are unfamiliar faces amongst the staff who now wear uniforms, and the box-office has been completely re-designed and extended out to where the cloakroom used to be. Even the entrance to the office has been upgraded and is a far cry from the tatty wooden door that required a key-code I can still remember. The foyer is much more customer-friendly with hi-tech screens advertising upcoming shows and a counter accessible to all. I turn my attention to the brochure I picked up in the foyer relieved to find familiar blurb advertising shows Direct from the West End!
'What are those seats over there, Mum? My daughter gestures to two rows of seats on either side of the stage.
'They're 'box-seats'. They're not boxes really, not like they are in the Theatre. They're called that because of where they are at the side of the stage. We usually only sell those for concerts and classical events because the sight-lines aren't that great, except if you want to see really close up, or into the orchestra pit. Or sneak a peek at an artist rehearsing when you're supposed to be working.
The knowledge rolls off my tongue as the house- lights come down and a ripple of applause announces the arrival of the Conductor. My daughter is immediately smitten as the curtains swish back and dancers take to the stage in vibrant costumes, her teenage face engrossed as Drosselmeyer presents the Nutcracker toy-soldier to the two children. Clara immediately takes a liking to the toy, holding it high above her head and pirouetting around for the audience to admire. Her revelry is short-lived when the toy is carelessly broken by her brother, Fritz which is all very vexing but I'm already finding it difficult to concentrate. Instead, I'm distracted by matching sparkly outfits worn by two little girls on the tier below complete with ballet pumps. Principle dancers of the future, judging by the way their parents are encouraging them to sit up nicely and pay attention. I've served a million like them over the years, the 'will my child be able to see?' brigade of well-meaning yummies scouring the seating plan to make sure they really are booking the best available for their little darlings.
As much as I've missed working here, my relationship with the box-office was at times a love/hate affair. As with any paid employment, there were days when I couldn't wait to finish work and jump on the bus to get home, especially if we'd been flat out booking the newly announced panto or the autumn classical subscription season. Who wants to think about Box D in the dress circle for the Christmas Eve matinee in June? Or C22/23 in the choir stalls for nine concerts when you can only offer eight? The punters, apparently, and no, they don't want an alternative because they're the seats they always book! By the time you've cashed up and escaped the queues the thrill of dragging yourself back again in the evening to see a show fades to less than nothing over time. Sitting here now, having paid full price plus an admin fee, I can't help wondering if we ever truly value what we have until it's gone?
I don't miss the job so much as the people I worked with and the environment I worked in. My time in this box-office began in the early '90s before health and safety ruled, cigarette breaks were still acceptable and it wasn't unusual for the back-stage crew to spend long lunches in Lilly Langtry’s. The computers were basic boxes and we sat open-mouthed when one of the chaps announced that soon it might be possible to find an address by postcode alone. I remember how shocked we were when postal charges were introduced never-mind admin fees; though a colleague did once have to explain to one disappointed customer that bfee actually meant booking-fee, not buffet and sadly, he would need to make alternative dining arrangements for both himself and his good lady-wife.
Out of all the losses I've had to endure, it's the loss of social interaction and excellent banter that grieves me the most. That and being part of a creative team. I had no idea of how quickly the world could change on the spin of a coin or in my case, a bus-ride home that would alter the course of my life forever. And we can never go back, no matter how much we would wish to, the world still turns with or without our presence. Unlike the theatre, there are no two-minute warning bells like the one I can hear now for the second act to commence.
Whilst I always wanted to work in theatre, being in the box-office was only ever meant to be a stop-gap while I thought about what to do with my degree yet somehow, it ended up becoming my 'career', more so once we had children. Job security became a priority and although selling theatre tickets was never my dream, at least I was in the vicinity of where dreams are realised: for the audience as well as the artists on the stage. I can think of worse places to while away some of the happiest times of my life.
Having spent the best part of six years grieving for the life I used to have and living in fear of what people might think of the way I speak now, being here today has rekindled a flame and a desire to belong again. Perhaps even to regenerate and follow a different path, a truer path – like the Prince, who is magically transformed from the Nutcracker into his true self – allowing ourselves to be transformed by change is the whole point. Whilst I could have done without the universe giving me a shove, my speech has returned, albeit in a strange accented kind of way. Revisiting the Concert Hall has not only brought home how much I've missed being part of the hub but also served as a reminder of a life I've yet to discover. The journey back has been a long hard road and maybe, having finally come full circle, this is the turning point where I say goodbye to the old and hello to a brave brave new world.
The energy is palpable as the ballet concludes with a final waltz before Clara glides away to her happy-ever-after. Out of the corner of my eye, I fancy I see the shadow of a familiar figure smiling from the darkness of the wings, her eyes bright with excitement, but before I can be sure she turns and disappears back into the black. The dancers re-appear a few moments later for the audience to show their appreciation and I find myself caught up in the euphoria of applause whilst fighting the urge to run after the ghost of the girl I used to be to tell her I never meant to leave so suddenly, that what happened was beyond my control. And no, it wasn't fair – it absolutely wasn't fair – but I'm here now and we have the chance to learn a new dance – a better dance – because the time has not yet come for us to take our final bow.

Type

Article

Location of item

Private Collection: Tracey Curzon-Manners

Rights

Private Collection: Tracey Curzon-Manners

Contributor

Researcher: David Longford