Iconic in its history as the chosen professional theater miles from Broadway, the Guthrie Theater dwells in kindness and joy. What a concept! It’s a premiere arts organization that treats patrons and staff with gratitude.
The Guthrie opened in Minneapolis in 1963. “The idea of a major resident theater was introduced to the American public in a small paragraph on the drama page of The New York Times on September 30, 1959, which invited cities to indicate interest in Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s idea. Seven cities responded: Waltham, Massachusetts; Cleveland; Chicago; Detroit; Milwaukee; San Francisco; and Minneapolis/St. Paul (which was not only interested but eager).” (guthrietheater.org)
My fellow ushers’ backgrounds are as unique as the Guthrie’s avante-garde building: high school kids; young college grads with theater backgrounds; retired teachers, engineers, a human rights consultant, a therapist, and an Apple employee.
And there’s a bit of personal history hanging around in this uber-modern building. When my daughter moved to Minneapolis after college graduation in 1999, as a drama and religious studies major, she hoped work at the Guthrie. That didn’t happen. She moved to New York after a year. Here I am serving that familial desire. (She took the religious studies Ph.D route instead, but her theater successes had an enormous impact on her.)
Or as Thornton Wilder, author of the play “Our Town” wrote, “I regard theatre as the greatest art form of all, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”
I’ve never worked in a place quite like the Guthrie. At the end of a two-hour shift overseeing vaccine checks or showing guests to their seats or answering myriad questions. House managers always thank ushers at the end of a shift. Tell us we did a terrific job.
Attending virtual staff meetings is an equitable experience. As an usher — working only ten to twelve hours weekly — I don’t feel anyone pointing to a hierarchy.
Then there are the patrons. A motley crew. I’ve learned a lot about people at the Guthrie, helping theatergoers prior to the performance. A few months ago many people asked, “Where can I get a drink?” Answer: During covid no alcohol or snacks are on sale.
Far and away the most curious thing, to me, is how many people don’t read the signs. Not just older folks but young people, too. “Where do I go?” is a common question despite the giant lit-up sign standing in front of them: PERFORMANCE CHECK-IN.
I used to think we were a nation of readers. No more. I can’t help realizing that conundrum following the election of he-who-shall-not-be-named.
I’ve learned about myself, too. Earlier on in my tenure as an usher a man asked where the coatroom was. When I told him there wasn’t one, he followed up: “What am I supposed to do with my coat?”
I couldn’t help it. “You’ll just have to sit on it,” I replied.
Now I smile more. I apologize. A few nights ago a woman strode up to have her ticket punched. Searching for it, she dropped the contents of her purse.
“This is the most confusing place I’ve ever been,” she complained. Projection? She of course meant, “I’m so confused.”
“I’m so sorry,” I smiled. Poor woman.
Another night an older gentleman tried to give me a one dollar tip for checking his vaccine card.
“Enjoy the show,” I typically say to everyone walking by me. Nearly everyone heading down the hall to the production smiles back, so happy to be there in person following months with the Guthrie closed.
Typically, each human joyfully responds, “I will!”
What a great place to work for an older people-person like me. Besides, I enjoy chatting with Chu and Sierra and Cal about what paths they’ll be scanning next in their young lives.
Meanwhile — Yes to arts education, Yes to gratitude, and Yes to the Guthrie!