Box office managers not only make sure patrons can easily purchase tickets to performing arts events, but they are quite literally the face of an organization. Audiences generally see and talk with the people working in the box office much more than they interact with any other people involved in a production. They also craft the language used in online sales and even for social media and work hard to make sure the ticket-buying experience is positive and seamless from start to finish.
The simple version is that box office managers make sure patrons can buy tickets.
Of course, there are lots of details that go into that process. In small companies, the box office manager might be the only staff member — or at least the only paid staff member — taking care of ticket sales and all that entails. This can happen online, via phone or in person. Like other retail experiences, selling something involves keeping enough cash on hand to make change, making certain that electronic payment methods are working correctly and reconciling the box office numbers with the amount of money that is taken in at each performance.
Naturally, as organizations grow and audiences get bigger, the work gets more complicated. There are seating assignments to manage as well as the more complicated ticketing programs involved in making sure patrons select the seats they want. Larger companies require more staff to help with larger audiences, so the box office manager supports and supervises people in addition to managing the money and tickets herself. This requires being part of interviewing and training these employees as well as making sure those folks stay up to date as ticketing systems evolve.
Regardless of the size of the organization, the box office manager has to be someone that can be trusted not only with handling (hopefully) large sums of money but with sensitive personal information. Audience members share their addresses, phone numbers and payment info, and that info should be protected at all costs.
One of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of being a box office manager is the day-to-day interactions they have with the public. In the best cases, audience members are delighted to be at your theatre and want to share their enthusiasm. In other cases, there’s a problem and people are angry. It’s essential that the box office manager and their staff remain calm and do their best to assist every patron in resolving conflicts as needed. Happy patrons mean healthy totals at the box office.
First and foremost, being a box office manager requires some serious customer service skills. Being personable and helpful is a great way to win over audiences before the curtain ever goes up on the show. This means being a proactive problem-solver and being able to stay cool under pressure. It can be incredibly stressful when half of the audience waits to pick up their tickets until right before showtime!
Box office managers are incredibly detail-oriented. These folks tend to be masters of the spreadsheet, and they’re excellent communicators both verbally and in writing.
While most box office managers don’t need specific degrees for this role, most ticketing systems offer a certain amount of training to understand the nuances of how each platform works. It’s important to stay current as things evolve, so participating in webinars and in-person training is vital. If a ticketing system isn’t working properly, it’s the box office manager’s job to either figure out how to make it better or advocate for a new one.
Working as a box office manager is an excellent job for an outgoing theatre lover. People in this role enjoy interacting with the public and working with a staff of like-minded assistants. There’s a lot of bookkeeping involved, so box office managers should feel comfortable handling money and keeping track of receipts in a clear, understandable format.
Because many arts events take place at night and on the weekends, box office managers should expect to keep those hours much of the time. If a theatre maintains a year-round schedule, its box office manager will keep a pretty steady pace throughout the calendar year. Some theatres have a season that more or less coincides with a school year schedule, so box office managers at those organizations experience a bit of a lull in the summers and use that time to update systems or make revisions to help things run more smoothly in the future.
Many box office managers at smaller theatres are paid hourly because there isn’t quite enough work to warrant a full-time position. If you’re considering accepting a part-time, hourly box office gig, negotiate a rate that respects the amount of work that goes into this role. In most major cities, that would be at least $20 per hour even at a smaller organization.
Large, professional producing theatres and touring houses hire full time box office managers. These are salaried positions with benefits, and the workload is much larger. Expect to be compensated accordingly. The national average is about $50,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.
The box-office staff simply sell the tickets and assist customers. It’s the theatre equivalent of being a cashier. Unlike being a cashier, box office staff need to know about the physical theatre in order to help point customers toward the right entrances or washrooms, and they need to be comfortable talking about the organization.
A house manager takes care of the patrons once they’ve bought their tickets. These folks manage the ushers who show everyone to their seats. The house manager is also responsible for the safety of audience members. They have worked to train their staff in everything from medical emergencies to emergency evacuations.
Leslie W. Price is a theatre artist, educator, and writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on LinkedIn or visit her portfolio.