Through the Box Office Window

Through the Box Office Window

Jonathan Brown

 

Jonathan Brown, Chief Executive of STAR, gives us the latest on plans to introduce an apprenticeship for the ticketing profession.

 

Date Published: 12 January 2017

I’ve mentioned before that STAR is working to establish a qualification and apprenticeship in ticketing. We are determined to achieve this, but there have been a number of changes in the apprenticeship landscape in recent years. Each time we think we are close to success, the goal posts seem to move again.

One of the challenges we are currently wrestling with is communicating the unique nature of ticketing; arguing that it doesn’t just fit neatly into an existing customer service, retail or marketing apprenticeship. We believe that there are aspects of the job that are specialised enough for it to have its own training framework.

Our employer group is chaired by Steve Haworth, Head of Sales and Ticketing at the RSC. A couple of months ago he mentioned an old book he’d seen about working in a box office in the West End. “Through the Box Office Window” was published in 1932 and written by W.H. Leverton. He worked at the Haymarket Theatre for over fifty years and his writing is a fascinating glimpse into London theatre in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Given our current dilemma in developing a ticketing apprenticeship, this struck a chord.

"Just as the “behind the scenes” of a theatre is a mystery to the average person, so I find that the business side, the ordinary work of the box office, is often incomprehensible to the individual who merely sees it as a window, a plan and a provider of a ticket.”

Leverton goes on to list a number of things that aren’t so relevant today. Opening the post, for example, played a major part in their daily routine just as it continued to do in box offices even into the 1990s. He also talks about sections of the auditorium being opened up to advance bookings for the first time and even the novelty of bookings by phone.

 Many of the box office processes mentioned in the book now seem pretty antiquated and have been retired – or replaced with new ones that are probably just as mystifying to the outsider and which would, I’m sure, be unrecognisable to Leverton.

There’s a view which echoes the point made in the book that an outsider “merely sees it as a window, a plan and a provider of a ticket”. Nowadays, perhaps, they might say ‘a counter, a website and a provider of a ticket”- though that last part might be dispensed with given the rise of ‘print at home’ and mobile ticketing. “But I do all the work myself”, is often the cry of customers, particularly when questioning ticketing fees.

At the cinema it’s usual to buy a ticket from the same place you can buy popcorn and ice-cream. We’re now seeing that in some live venues as well, for example with tickets being sold from the bar. There will be situations where that makes a lot of sense, particularly in smaller buildings. After all, we’re perfectly happy for customers to manage their own bookings at home – do we really need specialist staff to sell a ticket in the venue?

Perhaps, as in Mr Leverton’s day, the ‘mysterious’ work isn’t what takes place in the actual transaction of selling a ticket, it’s what is going on in the background to support that transaction that’s more complex.

So, are there in fact things that make ticketing a unique occupation that requires a dedicated qualification and apprenticeship framework? And, if we can capture the ‘knowledge, skills and behaviours that an individual needs to be fully competent’ in ticketing, can we then articulate them in a way that convinces others that we need that framework?

We started this process because ticketing is something people seem to fall into unexpectedly rather than making a choice. There is no existing structure or training, other than in the workplace. We believe that there is an opportunity to improve this with a framework that provides good training, promotes best practice and encourages career development.

The draft education programme for the Ticketing Professionals Conference next March is helpful in identifying some of the unique areas of knowledge and skills required in ticketing. Although some sessions will cover the sharing of innovations and learning from other sectors, there are several that are very specific to ticketing.

We’ve asked employers to send us copies of relevant job descriptions that might help identify the particular skills they are seeking when recruiting to ticketing roles. Once we have collated this information, working with Creative and Cultural Skills, we will continue our efforts to establish the apprenticeship scheme.

There’s good support for this, with a number of major companies showing an interest in taking on ticketing apprentices. However, if we are to be successful, there needs to be substantially more interest from across the country to help demonstrate our industry’s need and support for this training.

 

If this is of interest to you or your organisation, please get in touch jonathan.brown@star.org.uk 

 

Through the Box Office Window

 

“Courtesy and patience are the essentials required for dealing with the public who, after all, provide us with our bread and butter.”

W.H. Leverton from Through the Box Office Window

 


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