Fostering community is a core tenet of ASC’s mission. Without our stagehands, actors, designers, managers, and volunteers, we would not be able to produce two plays at two separate locations in the midst of a pandemic. 

As much as we want you to be moved by what is happening onstage (and trust us, you will be moved), we also want to introduce you to the people who help bring these productions to life offstage. One month ago, we went behind the scenes of the Blackfriars Playhouse to ask Jessica, our stage manager, and Rhi, our properties master, how they spent quarantine, how rehearsals are going, and how ASC SafeStart works for them. 

This time, we caught up with our Senior House Manager Suz and two Box Office employees, Rebekah and Thomas, to hear how they manage to run to two venues at once and what they want people to know about the work they do for ASC. They even shared some of their top things-to-know before attending performances! It’s time to go behind the scenes (again!) let’s go!


SUZ LOCHNER

Who are you? 

[My name is] Suz Lochner. I am the Sr. House Manager and Assistant Box Office Manager.  I joined the Box Office staff in 2015 after my son finished up in Boys Scouts and  I no longer was committed to weekend camping trips and other Scouting adventures.  I wanted something to do that I was passionate about, and bonus, I get paid too!

As House Manager, audience interaction is typically a large part of your job. How has social distancing shaped how you interact with guests? 

Like any job there are the ups and downs. But for me, this is the best job in the world.  Pre-COVID we got to interact with the actors and production team. We got to know the subscribers and super fans. It truly was like a family. It still is, but more distant.  Like the kids have gone away for college. You know they will be home for holidays and maybe the summer, but day to day things just aren’t the same.  I am looking forward to a post-COVID world where we get to see and hang out with all our great friends again

Though patrons are not able to see my full face, I still greet everyone with a smile and a warm welcome. I offer a lot of virtual hugs to returning patrons and to new patrons sincere appreciation for their support, enthusiasm, and bravado for venturing out to this new world of ours.

You now also have another venue to manage — the lawn at the Blackburn Inn and Conference Center! What new challenges does an outdoor venue present, and how are you mitigating them?

Outdoor theatre is truly another world. Besides the motorcycles, trains and emergency vehicles passing by, I would have to say the weather is the most challenging.  It is disappointing when we have to cancel due to rain, but the patrons have really been so lovely and understanding about that.

It took about a month to really get the groove of what we needed at the check-in tent and what we could do without. The two most important words to remember…Bug Spray!!

You’ve said that ASC is your happy place. What about ASC is so special to you? 

Growing up I loved movies, plays, and musicals. I majored in theatre in college [at Mary Baldwin University], and I get an invigorating feeling when I walk into a theatre.  Even after a sleepless night and a full day at my other job, I come alive when I reach the Box Office. It is fantastic to have ASC in my backyard. It feeds my soul.

What do you want people to know before they visit ASC? 

ASC provides all the info you need to know about attending a performance at the Blackfriars (and at the Blackburn also) on our website, in your confirmation email, and in the pre-show email.  It makes the event so much more special and enjoyable for everyone if patrons understand what we provide and what is expected of them as well.


REBEKAH BRADLEY RAY

Who are you? 

My name is Rebekah Bradley Ray and I am the Box Office Concierge at ASC. I have always wanted to work at ASC, so when I saw a job opening… I went for it!

How does the Summer 2020 season feel different from your past experiences at ASC? Has anything surprised you this season?

Yes! I came in expecting people to be really nasty about us having to shut down. However, I’ve been surprised at how gracious and understanding most people are. Many people are just so relieved and happy that we are still open and running. I have at least one person a day ask me on the phone if we are alright and if ASC is going to be okay. Besides that, we still have so many people requesting to donate to our “Keep the Lights On” campaign. (Donations are now being taken for our Save A Space campaign.)

This year, ASC has two additional performance “venues.” In addition to attending shows at Blackfriars, guests can also purchase tickets for outdoor performances at the Blackburn or online shows! How has this changed your job?

The main difference now is that I feel like most of my job is explaining to patrons how the new venues work. Especially since each one is completely different from the Blackfriars Playhouse. For instance, it is a huge point of confusion for people who are used to our indoor shows, for which they would purchase single tickets, to have to buy a lawn “space” that holds multiple people for Blackburn performances. I also have to explain our new safety features and social distancing protocols for both venues. BlkFrs TV requires a whole other layer of explanation.

What do you want people to know before they visit ASC?

I would like people to know that we really do value safety above everything else. We are one of the only theatres in the country that’s up and running at this capacity right now. We all have friends in the theatre community who have been absolutely devastated by the shutdown. ASC was hit hard and we are still fighting to survive, but at least we are open and doing shows.

I don’t think any of us take for granted what ASC is able to do. We want everyone to continue to be safe here, including actors, staff, and our patrons. Everyone is doing their part to keep the lights on and to make ASC a safe environment.

Is there anything else you want people to know about your job?

I love my job. I truly love being able to interact with patrons and help them find the perfect tickets or show them the beautiful theatre. Most people are so great to talk to and I love hearing people excited to see Shakespeare and bringing their kids for the first time to see a show. It’s truly such a staple in the community and I love that I get to be a part of that.


THOMAS K. PRATER

Who are you?

My name is Thomas K. Prater, and I am a house manager for the American Shakespeare Center Box Office. My relationship with the ASC began last year when I moved to Staunton to pursue my Masters degree in Shakespeare & Performance at MBU. I knew I would need a job once I moved here, and the Blackfriars seemed like the perfect fit. In the short time I have worked here, ASC has quickly become my favorite theatre company in the United States.

How does the Summer 2020 season feel different from your past experiences at ASC? 

The first difference is our limited contact with the artistic staff, primarily the actors. Since they’ve been quarantining so that they can continue to do their amazing work, front-of-house workers like myself have kept contact with the acting company to a minimum. Not getting to see as many friendly faces around the Box Office has been hard, but it is a minimal sacrifice to ensure our company’s safety during the pandemic.

The second difference is that we are all just thankful to be able to work right now. In March, when we had to go dark, it sort of felt like the Playhouse was ripped out from under our feet. When something like that happens, you realize that you don’t really know what you got ’till it’s gone. This season, I feel such thankful energy from everyone involved with the theatre: front-of-house, ushers, stage managers, actors, everybody. We’re just thrilled to be back.

Has anything surprised you this season?

When I agreed to come back to house management, I was quite nervous because of all the stories on the news about patrons of other businesses refusing to wear masks or practice social distancing, but our patrons have been really accommodating. I think that’s what makes this company so special. This community stretches way farther than those working in the building. I can tell our patrons care just as much about this place as we do. They want to help out in any way they can, and that includes keeping themselves and everyone around them safe. I’ve been quite encouraged by that.

What have performances on the lawn of the Blackburn Inn been like for you?

Outdoor theatre is a totally different game. All I will say is you that you’ve got to have some ponchos onhand at all times.

As a Box Office employee, you must get asked a ton of questions! What is the weirdest request or question you have received, and how did you respond?

I, and other Box Office staffers, have been asked whether or not we act in the plays. It seems like a pretty humdrum question, but it has illuminated to me how foreign the theatre world is to most people. We are professionals in the Box Office just as the actors are onstage. A lot of people don’t realize how many different work environments exist in the average theatre, and that it doesn’t all mesh together. We may seem more “professional” in our button-up shirts and slacks, but the actors are just as professional in their Shakespearean blouses and tights. It isn’t a secondary thing for them, it’s their job. Anyone who sees a show here can see for themselves how incredibly hard they all work to make breathtaking theatre.

What do you want people to know before they visit ASC?

Make sure you read about everything we are doing to keep our audiences safe. It’s an adjustment, for sure, but you get used to it and it does not get in the way of enjoying the fabulous plays we are showing this season.

And make sure you get here 15 minutes early to hear the music! You never want to miss the music!


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AND — be sure to check our website for ticketing information. Plus, we now have Shakes-beard Face Masks for sale — pick one up in our online gift shop!

We can’t wait to welcome you back to the Blackfriars Playhouse


BY KATHRYN BAKER; MARKETING INTERN
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