On the Clock: Proctors usher welcomes visitors, points some in right direction
Eric Eisenstein knows all about standing room only.
He was on his feet Thursday night at Proctors in Schenectady. About 1,900 theater fans were expected for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” and Eisenstein and 60 other volunteer ushers would help them find their seats.
“I’ve always loved the theater and I’ve always loved the shows that Proctors puts on,” said Eisenstein, 64, who lives in Delmar. “And not just the Broadway shows, the other shows they put on here as well.”
He’s been in the aisles at Proctors since 2008. By 7 p.m., Eisenstein and his brother and sister ushers had already been briefed about the night ahead. “Beauty’s” first act would run 82 minutes. A 20-minute intermission would follow, and Belle, Beast, Gaston and the gang would return for a 50-minute second act. The “hold” would be about seven minutes and affect only people arriving after the lights were down and curtain was up. The late set would be allowed to walk to their seats after the musical’s second song.
Awaiting the crowd
Eisenstein, a native of the Bronx who moved to the Capital Region during the early 1980s, likes pointing people in the right direction. “I get to contribute and I get to see the show,” he said. “How can you beat that?”
At 7:10, Eisenstein had time to kill. The stage was visible, and some performers were limbering up. The third-nighters — “Beauty” opened Tuesday and concludes its run on Sunday — would be admitted into the theater at 7:30. Eisenstein stood at the back of Aisle 3, one of main orchestra aisles, and waited. He was dressed in a black V-neck sweater, white collared shirt, black knotted tie, black slacks and black shoes. “The Proctors look,” Eisenstein said. “Ladies are obviously similar.”
Once in a while, he said, people want to slip ushers a couple dollars for prompt placements. But tips are against the rules.
“I have to very nicely say, ‘No, no no. We can’t do that,’ ” Eisenstein said.
Eisenstein, a former training director for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, likes the teamwork involved on show nights. He said when Bill Cosby played Proctors, the comedian did back-to-back shows. And as Cosby works at his own, relaxed pace, the first show went longer than expected.
“We had people lined up for the second show down the block,” Eisenstein said. “It started 20 minutes late, but we turned that around pretty quick. So it can be done — [with] a lot of hustle.”
Ushers also are on duty for spring high school and college graduations at the theater. Dance recitals, too. For extended-stay productions, such as the recent “Jersey Boys,” all of Proctors’ 500 volunteer ushers see shows several times.
“I did the Frankie Valli show, I did the Moody Blues earlier this month,” Eisenstein said. “I’ve been fairly busy this month.”
Playing the host
At 7:25, the curtain had been lowered. Eisenstein took his place in Aisle 3 and stood about a dozen rows down. Other ushers were stationed farther down, closer to the stage.
“The house is open,” said a loud voice from the back of the house. That meant entrance doors had been unlocked. People began their walks down the six orchestra aisles and started steps upstairs to the balcony.
At first, there was only a trickle of pedestrian traffic.
“Good evening folks, do you know where your seats are?” Eisenstein asked. “Do you know where you’re going?”
People seemed to know their places. One man didn’t.
“I’m in row G,” he said. Eisenstein knew the way.
“You don’t have far to go,” he said, walking a few steps forward. “Right off the aisle. What are the numbers?”
The pace picked up. “Beauty” fans were a mix of seniors, middle-aged adults, teenagers and small children. Eisenstein took time to greet some of the younger theater fans, such as enthusiastic Ava Weakley, 9, of Scotia, who wore a princess tiara to see her favorite Disney characters.
Eisenstein continued greeting. “Getting warmer in here, too,” he said.
On with the show
By 7:45, a steady stream of people passed the usher. The red cushions in dozens of rows were quickly covered by people in deep blue sweaters, blue jeans, long yellow dresses and navy blue slacks and jackets.
“Hi folks, know where you’re going?” Eisenstein said. “Enjoy the show.”
Ushers all carry flashlights in case they’re caught in the dark. And during “Beauty,” they would all be watching for personal cameras in operation; Disney hates to see any of its touring productions show up on home video screens.
By 7:58, much of the theater was filled. In Eisenstein’s section, only four seats in row “L” and three seats in row “H” were open. A few seconds later, head usher Chuck Knowles pulled his people out of action.
“Time for us to exit,” Eisenstein said, walking up Aisle 3 to the back of the house. It had been a smooth operation.
“Like a well-oiled machine,” Eisenstein said.
“On the Clock” profiles people at work in the Capital Region by spending one hour with them on the job. Nominate a friend or co-worker by contacting Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.