Through his regular column on this website – Really Useful People – Markus Ritzmann has interviewed many of the actors and actresses who have graced the stage at theatres including the London Palladium, where Markus has worked since 1995 – but now it’s our turn to grill him.
Having worked in the box offices of London’s premiere theatres for 22 years, Markus is well-placed to spill the beans, with stories of eccentric managers, confused customers, and fantastic shows…
How long have you worked at the London Palladium?
In the box office? I started just after Oliver! opened, I think it was the beginning of 1995. I also worked here front of house in 1984, when I was 15! My uncle was an actor and he got me a job at the Phoenix Theatre, working front of house on a long-forgotten musical called Peg – very long-forgotten in fact, it closed before my summer holidays were up – so his partner managed to get me here [The London Palladium] for the last two weeks of my summer holidays, working front of house, on Singin’ In The Rain. Then I came back the following two summers, in ’85 and ’86. ’86 was La Cage Aux Folles.
In 1987, I applied for box office, because I had decided I wanted to work in theatre then, and I got offered a place at Her Majesty’s. Phantom had been on about eleven months. I worked a couple of years there, then a couple of years for Miss Saigon, and some of the smaller theatres. I came over to the Palladium in ’95, and I’ve been here ever since. So I’ve been in working in box offices for 22 years now.
So you’ve worked in a number of theatres in the West End…?
Yes, I’ve worked at Her Majesty’s, The Apollo, , The Duchess, The Lyric, then I came here… but amongst that time, it used to be that in quiet periods in box office – because we did all our own phones and everything at the start – so if you were between booking periods, you might go somewhere else for six weeks. So I worked at the Garrick and The Cambridge… I think I did one shift at The Globe as it then was, now the Queens.
Do you have a favourite theatre?
This one – can’t really say anything else after all these years, can I! But I think there is a magic about The Palladium, and I think the public feel it as well when they step in. even though we’re not the oldest of our theatres – we’ve got a long way to catch up with Drury Lane – this is the one where a lot of the big stars have played, even if it was on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. This is where The Beatles came, Judy Garland had an association, Bing Crosby and Mama Cass gave their last performances here… so you can’t beat it for pure showbiz. Even the big stars today – I was lucky enough to see the Royal Variety Show last year – like Take That and Leona Lewis.
What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?
Well so much changes between one show and another, but if you’re in in the morning you have to print all the tickets off first of all for that evening – although it’s something you also have to keep looking at during the day. There’s window sales – we don’t deal with any telephone bookings here because we’re not staffed anymore, that’s all done by See Tickets. We do a little bit of accounting, a bit of admin – sometimes there’s the odd staffing issues to deal with. Sometimes we have to deal with house seats – the requests that come from the producers.
When it comes to the evenings, that’s the busiest time. You can be in from 10am and then at 7 o’clock you’ve got to summon up all your energy and deal with several problems all at once. Occasionally there will be a problem with someone’s tickets – like someone at the agency’s written the wrong letter on the ticket. Sometimes we’re able to guess and sort it out ourselves. Sometimes we have to phone See’s trade desk and they get back to us. Sometimes people just go in and sit in the wrong seats and think no-one will notice! But they always get found out…
What kind of hours do you work?
We work 40 hours, which are a mixture of shifts. It’s a six-day week, unless we’ve got a Sunday concert, which would be overtime. So sometimes we’re here all day, sometimes the morning and afternoon, sometimes the afternoon and evening – it depends on the needs of the show really. Normally I would work five days a week, and if you work the sixth day it’s overtime.
How many people do you work with?
At the moment there are six of us in the team. It varies with each show – there have been times when there were only five of us, and once when there were seven. And when I first helped out at the box office, it was about 15 then, but the staff were dealing with all the telephone calls as well then so it has changed…
You must have seen a number of other changes in your time. What are the main ones?
Well… there was far more variety in the job in the past. Although different box offices did things differently – I never actually worked at the Palladium for more than a few weeks when it was manual – the Palladium was always a box office where people would have their particular areas of responsibility, but most of the other box offices, everyone had to do everything. Every aspect of accounting was done in the box office, dealing with the ticket agencies was done in the box office, group bookings, everything like that.
So it was quite a job…
It seems quite complicated to talk about it now, but it was just one of those things – it seemed easy at the time! Then we had to report door sales, done for today’s, tomorrow’s and possibly the following day’s performances as well. It was so the producers had an idea what customers were booking ahead and planning in advance, and which customers were buying tickets more on the spur of the moment.
So it was a lot of work, but it was varied… and you wouldn’t necessarily be doing that job every day, other days you’d have different responsibilities. The agency accounts were something we used to have to do as well, because we’d have to bill the agencies for what tickets they’d charged. I remember on Phantom it was quite straightforward because we’d sold out months in advance – so you might be sitting there on 1st February and billing the agencies for tickets in March, but in a theatre that wasn’t necessarily selling out you could only do that on the night, so it was something you’d have to do that night after 6 o’clock, to start taking agency calls and doing the account. We used to call them the libraries – don’t know why! – but that’s what the agencies were called, so we’d be doing the ‘library accounts’.
So it was a long day then…
Well you’d still be rota’d on the shift basis. However, if you were working in a small box office, say, on Shaftesbury Avenue there’s only so many staff you can fit in there! At the Apollo, we had room in the box office for maybe three staff, a room upstairs that could fit another three or four, so we might have eight staff, say in total – but when Geoffery Bernard is Unwell in the late 80’s I think we got up to 11 staff in a tiny theatre like that. It became such a blockbuster, we’d be going in the mornings and wouldn’t get away till after ten at night, because there were things that just couldn’t be left. They had to be done and there were not buttons to press on a computer – it all had to be processed. Sometimes we’d leave after the audience had left, that would be quite rare now!
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