Performance Day Timeline
Handling Difficult Patrons
In many places, it's legally required to deliver a curtain speech to inform patrons about the location of the emergency exits. But a curtain speech can do more than just remind the audience what to do in case of emergency. It's used to welcome people to the show, to inform them if any understudies are going on (an announcement is typically required of a union show), to remind them to silence any electronic devices, that recording and photography are prohibited, and even to unwrap any hard candies. If you're a theatre company that performs a season, you may want to let patrons know about the next production. The curtain speech might be delivered by the house manager, director (e.g. at a school production) or by a member of the artistic staff.
Here's a sample announcement:
Welcome to the Sidewalk Studio Theatre's production of Milk and Cookies by Jonathan Dorf. At this time, please turn off or silence any cell phones or electronic devices and refrain from texting, and please keep in mind that recording the performance or taking photographs is not permitted. There will be one fifteen-minute intermission, and next month, we hope you'll join us for our production of Great Expectations, adapted from the Dickens classic by Rocco P. Natale. In case of an emergency, please exit through the door through which you entered, or through the curtain to your left. Thank you, and enjoy the show.
Or, done with a bit of humor:
Welcome to the Sidewalk Studio Theatre's production of Milk and Cookies by Jonathan Dorf. At this time, please turn off or silence any cell phones, PDAs, laptops, iPods, iPads, watches, or other electronic devices that ring, buzz, beep or otherwise emit noise or light; we have it on good authority that you will survive without checking your email or sending a text message for the next 90 minutes. However, should you wish to disturb the rest of the audience and make sure they know it's all about you, please leave your cell phone ringer on and feel free to take a call during the performance. Owners of pagers, 1985 is waiting for you in the lobby. Please be aware that recording the performance or taking photographs is not permitted, and that our actors are not nearly attractive enough to risk the horrible things we'll do to you if we catch you. There will be one fifteen-minute intermission, and next month, we hope you'll join us for our production of Great Expectations, adapted from the Dickens classic by Rocco P. Natale. In case of an emergency, please exit through the door through which you entered, or through the curtain to your left. Out of courtesy to our neighbors, please try to exit without screaming. Thank you, and enjoy the show.
Audiences are people. People get hungry. If your play has an intermission, then this reality presents three opportunities to increase the production revenue by selling beverages, snacks and paraphernalia.
If you're renting a theater space, what is the policy when it comes to concessions? Does the rental house control the sale of food and liquor? Or can you benefit from this aspect of production?
Assuming a rental situation in which the rental house does not control concessions, the two basic approaches are to either contract the concession sales out to an existing caterer or to purchase and provide the service independently. The former presupposes an audience of reasonable size to entice an entrepreneur to invest in your production. The latter involves engaging the support of someone to oversee the purchase of products, display, collection of money and clean up.
Advance ticket sales are adequate evidence for a caterer that it is worth their while to operate concessions at your show. A simple financial arrangement is to offer an exclusive license to vend in exchange for a percentage of the profits. The vender is thereby engaged to invest his time at your venture but can reasonably expect to incur no loss on the project since gross sale revenue goes first toward recouping his investment. (A 70/30 profit share favoring the vendor is reasonable, unless you purchase the vending materials/supplies, in which case a 50/50 profit split is acceptable.)
DOING IT YOURSELF
If you're running concessions yourself, what should you sell? The obvious beverage choice is bottled water, since in most cases, it can actually be brought into the theater during the show. Some patrons may prefer sparkling water, rather than still. Beyond that, you may wish to sell soda, juice (as a healthier choice), or, depending on the alcohol policy at your venue (and the age of your audience), wine and beer. Larger theater venues may even sell mixed drinks, but this starts to get expensive and involved.
In terms of food, many productions sell packaged candies, given that they're perhaps the easiest items to obtain, and they don't spoil for quite some time. But there are many other choices that could be healthier and more appetizing. For instance, what about packages of mixed nuts or dried fruit? Perhaps a local bakery will give you a wholesale or otherwise substantially discounted price for cookies or brownies or muffins in exchange for program advertising or their name prominently displayed at the concession stand.
School productions benefit from access to free labor and the good will of patrons. If your school has a PTA or theatre boosters, see if they'll donate the food, either by purchasing it at the store or by making it. This transforms this aspect of production into pure profit. Ideally, a parent can coordinate the concessions, making sure that parents are scheduled to donate food for specific performances, and that parents and/or students are scheduled to staff the concessions area.
A similar strategy could work at a community theatre with a loyal subscriber base and/or volunteers, with people coordinating to provide a pot luck of donated treats to sell, and volunteers to staff the concessions booth. At the college level, you will likely have a pool of people from which to draw as volunteers to sell concessions, though it may be harder to find students capable of donating or making the food items you need. Even students who are good bakers may not have the facilities or the time to do so, in which case you may have to rely on purchased goods (unless you have local parents).
If you're running a professional production, you'll likely have to hire someone to work at the stand—though this is a great task for interns, if you have them—and to purchase all of your goods. But again, it never hurts to explore discounts from local merchants in return for advertising considerations.
Regardless of the level of production, if you are running your own concessions, you'll need to be sure you have ample cash on hand (lots of small bills) to make change for purchases, and that someone responsible will be overseeing and accounting for the money.
Closing Up at the End of the Night