In the land of keys, the janitor is king. He has a key to everything from the Chief Executive's office to the dumpster padlock.
Y’all know I work at a large theatre in a small town, a theatre to which I rarely, if ever, refer to by name in these pages. It is That Which Shall Not Be Named because – I don’t really know why. I guess I don’t want patrons or co-workers to Google the theatre’s name and find this blog. It's a final fig leaf of privacy - for a woman who keeps a public journal on the internet. Right. Don’t come here looking for consistency.
Anyway, on the main public street that brings people into the heart of the performing arts campus, right on the sidewalk where the crowds walk up the hill to reach the theatres, there’s a nondescript door in the side of the building through which, at one time or another, almost every member of the company passes. I should say passed, as in past-tense; more on that in a bit. It’s called the company door, and it's the entrance to the company window where employees pick up their play tickets. It also leads upstairs to the administrative offices where payroll is processed and keys are issued. If you work for this theatre, sooner or later you pass through this door.
My office is in the same building, so I enter through this door every day. We who work in administration rarely wander around backstage in the theatres and we don’t have keys to the production buildings where sets and costumes are built. Conversely, actors, artists and technicians don’t have keys to the administrators' offices and don't wander through our work spaces. But everybody has a key to the company door.
It’s an unprepossessing entrance, absolutely nothing special. There’s no awning, sign, or shelter. It really doesn’t look like anything at all. The lock has always made a strangely distinctive sound. It opens with an electronic card key, but even back when we opened it with a metal key, the lock has always made this hollow “chunk” noise when it releases. There is something strangely pleasing to me about walking up the hill in a midsummer crowd of vacationing patrons, swiveling right, swiping my card, hearing the “chunk” and vanishing into the building before those around me have noticed. I magically disappear from their midst; now you see me...
We so love our perks and privileges, don’t we? The backstage pass, the security clearance, the right set of keys.
I worked at the company window in 1997, my first summer back in Ashland, the summer we left Portland and were living in a teepee down by Cottonwood Creek (which is an entry for another day.) I rotated through a variety of jobs in the box office and the company window was my favorite. It was a great way to meet everyone in the company, from the executive director to the ushers. Actors, directors, carpenters, electricians, stitchers, accountants, everybody in the organization visited the company window. Admittedly, the artistic director rarely stopped at the window (she had people for that), but she passed by frequently on her way to her office, trailing minions in her wake.
Theatre is not a high-paying profession; well, at least not for me. Not for most of us. Comp tickets are a significant part of the compensation package. Even employees who don’t particularly like theatre have a neighbor or an out-of-town-guest who wants to see a play. In the bad old days before policies were tightened, some of my colleagues who shall remain nameless bartered comps for hair cuts and chiropractic adjustments. When it was slow, I would process mail and answer the phones, but usually there was a steady stream of my co-workers dropping by to pick up tickets. The company was small enough back then that there was often time for a quick chat with whomever I was serving. They were getting something for nothing, so they were almost always in a good mood. I was the keeper of computer codes, the printer of the passes, and I was lightening fast. I could process a ticket order before there was a chance to catch up on the latest gossip. It was a low stress/high satisfaction job.
The new regime has decided to close the company window. Company members will order their comps through the box office's fickle online ticketing system and pick them up at the public box office window. I have a feeling that will go over with the acting company like a lead balloon. The last thing most of them want to do is to stand in line with the masses and have to listen to their gushing or endure their quizzing. The new regime says this move will save money. I hope it does, although I don’t see how, but mine is not to question why.
I still enter by the same door. It still makes the same satisfying “chunk." Work continues, and life goes on, but the company window is dark. And so it goes.