Men in tuxedos and women in sparkly jackets mingle in the Green Room of the Little Theater of Alexandria (LTA) in Virginia. A pianist in the far corner plays show tunes on a baby grand piano while a small group sings “Hello, Dolly.” Other guests sip wine and nibble on artistically presented hors d’oeuvres.
It’s opening night! The show: In the Heights.
Jayn Rife only ushers on opening night now at the LTA and other theaters. “It’s just fun,” she says. “I like doing opening night and I like seeing people.”
Rife leads me through a surprisingly long to-do list before the curtain goes up. I carry two water pitchers up the maze of stairs to the dressing rooms. The actors sit at a long, white table, surrounded by makeup bags. Broadway lights shine above the mirrors. They sing one of tonight’s songs. I stop for a second and take it in, then walk backstage to place a water pitcher in a room off of stage left. Dancers in jeans and crop tops hip-hop in front of me.
Rife and I carry more water to the sound and light crew and the musicians. Mission complete, we think, until we are told to dump the ice and refill. We finish just as the LTA doors open.
Rife stands by the theater’s double doors to scan tickets. The scanner works most of the time. I hand out programs. “Enjoy the show,” we say. Everyone seems to know Rife. She has made many friends through ushering. “It’s just nice,” she says. “I feel like a regular [on opening night] and people recognize me.”
Show time. The doors close. Typically volunteer ushers can enter the theater now and watch the show for free if seats are available, but tonight we remain in the lobby to wait for stragglers. As if on cue, a young, redhaired woman rushes in the front door just after the theater doors close, pleading with us to let her in. Her boyfriend sings in the opening number. We can hear him through the doors.
Sorry, we tell her. Not until the song ends and lights go down. She peeks through the crack where the two double doors meet, sobbing. I feel sorry for her. The song ends and the lights dim. Rife grabs a flashlight, opens the doors and swiftly shows the still sobbing woman to her seat.
The show goes on. Rife and I head back to the Green Room to prepare for intermission.
Photo: Jane Hess Collins
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