Who Tells Your Story: What I Learned Working As An Usher At Hamilton
2016: the year of Trump vs. Clinton, Brexit, and Hamilton. I was a graduate student in London, pursuing a Master’s at RADA and I was obsessed with Hamilton. I listened to the cast recording on repeat and I longed for the day when I would be back in New York attending a performance. Little did I know a year later I’d be working as an Usher at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, home of Hamilton.
For two and half years I spent my nights and weekends assisting the patrons of the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The experience was nothing like I thought it would be but proved to be one of the most influential periods of my life; it taught me so many valuable lessons about the theatre and myself.
I became an Usher through my internship with the owner of the venue, the Nederlander Organization. At the time I was interested in becoming a House Manager and ushering proved to be a great entry level job. The flexibility of working nights and weekends was also beneficial as I was seeking out full time administrative roles. In my mind it was going to be a great gig to have for a few months.
Like every other new Usher I started out as a substitute, meaning I filled in on nights when a permanent Usher was out. It was nice having flexibility but I knew I needed a steady paycheck. One Wednesday evening I received a text from the Head Usher at the Richard Rodgers Theatre asking if I could work the upcoming Friday through the rest of the week. I immediately responded- YES! After my first shift I sent a text thanking her for the work and I was available all of the following week. She told me to come in and just keep on showing up for all eight shows, indefinitely. In that moment I found my house and the course of my life was about to change in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
Eventually the show becomes background noise and a marker for the work night. One song will signify when you can leave if you’re on the early shift, another you might hear when you’re on your break heating up your dinner, and another will be the signal that it’s time to set up for intermission. What I took from my time at the Rodgers is so much more valuable than the show itself. Yes, getting paid to see Hamilton is awesome, but the job proved to be so much more than the show.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my time as an Usher is humility.
Just because I had a Master’s from one of the world’s leading theatre schools and an internship with the theatre owner does not mean I was above working the ladies room line at intermission, which circled back into the auditorium every night. My humility and grounding grew when I learned with customers it will always be my fault that they showed up seven minutes late and have to be held before going to their seats or it will always be my fault that it’s too cold in the theatre despite it being the middle of August so air conditioning is a given. Ushering taught me to go with the flow and just to do what I can to give the patron a positive experience. I recommend to every young theatre professional, no matter if you’re looking to go the administrative or the creative route. Humility will take you far.
I learned as an Usher how quickly and effectively solve problems with outside the box solutions. Not many roles require you to make the patron happy in seconds – in the dark nonetheless. I spent countless nights figuring out how to shuffle patrons who had recent surgeries to be more comfortable in their cramped seat they bought nearly a year before or how to resolve a medical crisis without interrupting the performance or causing any fear for nearby patrons. While Ushers may seem to be invisible, we are your first impression of your experience without you even knowing it, and that means any issues we are here to solve with limited interruption.
Most of all, the job gave me a sense of gratitude. No matter how many long nights or rude patrons It was never lost on me how fortunate I was to be at the Rodgers for a fragment of Hamilton’s run.
I met some of my closest friends who are like my second family while on the job. I got to be a small part of someone’s experience of the show and that’s what attracted me to working in the theatre in the first place. Recognizing gratitude is critical to our overall wellbeing and I am so grateful I had the experience to work at a cultural phenomenon, I don’t know many people who can say the same.
Eventually I found myself back in theatrical administration but I kept on ushering a few times a week. By the end of 2019 I knew it was time to hang up my flashlight and retire my black cardigan; working two jobs is tough and I needed to shift my priorities around. I am forever changed by my tenure as an Usher and the humility, problem solving, and gratitude I picked up on the job will never leave me. While Broadway is dark well into 2021 I am looking forward to the day when an Usher is there to greet me and be an integral part of my theatre going experience.