Friday, June 17, 2005

The House of Usher

"What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?"
—Edgar Allan Poe

I volunteered to be an usher at the Guthrie, or, I should say, I intended to. It sounded like a good idea -- until, that is, I entered the "house" as the Guthrie administrators call it. Like Poe's visitor to the House of Usher, there was (owing perhaps to the rain) an unredeemed dreariness of thought hanging about the place.

The heavyset, colorful woman leading usher training and orientation wasted no time informing us of the chief benefit of ushering - two free tickets to each show (except the first one of the season). That amounts to four shows in exchange for about 40 hours of ushering ranging from 1 to 4 times a month. Not bad. But not that great either.

Not that great after I learned that we wouldn't be receiving any parking vouchers, that we had to wear garmets of certain color, that too strong perfumes were forbidden, that we would most likely end up taking tickets at the doors or helping exceedingly old and frail persons reach their graves seats. And of course we would have to undertake all this while maintaining an outward disposition of extreme cheerfulness and warmth.

My depression of soul began when she tried to convey what ushers mean to the Guthrie and to the patrons. It was the manner in which all this, and more, was said, which curbed my enthusiasm. "You are indispensible to the operations here at the Guthrie," she gushed. "We couldn't put on a show without out you."

Talk about flattery! If anything ushers are the most dispensible part of a performance. To be sure, they are needed and make people feel more at home. Ideally, 24 ushers would attend to the house (8 ticket-takers & 16 proper ushers, plus the head usher, who is paid). But it turns out that the Guthrie can pass with 8 - but that's a stretch.

Indispensible? I'm not that credulous: they take anyone willing and who can climb steps, show you where the aisles, doors and bathrooms are, send you home with a packet of info to study (Rule 5: Ushers are always happy!) and expect to see you again an hour before the show starts.

I fled out the door. I have never worked with the public, and I wasn't about to start here - at this stuffy place slated for destruction (into which the Walker's sculpture garden will expand - yay!).

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