Front of House (FOH) encompasses all aspects of the audience experience before, during, and after your performance, including the comfort and safety of each of your audience members. The Front of House team will be led by the Front of House Manager - this role may be filled by an employee of the venue or you may be hiring a Front of House Manager to work your production specifically. The FOH Manager is directly responsible for the comfort and safety of the audience and works directly with the Producer, the Stage Manager, and all FOH personnel to ensure that the transitions from pre-show into the performance, possibly in and out of intermission(s), and transitioning out of performance go smoothly, stay on schedule, and consider the needs of the audience, the production team, and the venue.
These needs will vary with each performance and your FoH staff are crucial members of the team as they will frequently be the only face-to-face interaction that an audience member has with your team. When renting a venue, be sure to ask about Front of House, specifically whether you will be working with a team that works consistently in the venue or if you will be required to hire your own FoH staff. If you are bringing in your own staff, make sure they get training on how to handle front-of-house issues, such as speaking with patrons, interacting with patrons with different disabilities with respect and dignity, proper theatre etiquette, etc.
Although it may seem like completing FoH tasks yourself could be a way to save money, it can be very difficult to effectively be a Producer and act as Front of House. There will be many other things you’ll need to take care of during the run of your production, so having a FoH Manager (and potentially other members of a FoH team) allows you to be free to produce while they maintain the space and ensure the audience is satisfied and safe.
It is important to consider the needs of your production and your venue when deciding how many FoH personnel you will require. When signing your venue agreement, you should inquire about FoH staff and whether or not the venue has its own FoH personnel on staff. In some performance spaces, it is important to ask whether or not you will need to pay security or a representative from the venue to be present while you are in the space. This rate is typically calculated hourly and the venue should have an hourly rate that they can share with you while you are negotiating your agreement.
Some decisions about your FoH team will be clear early in the process, but some details will only become clear as rehearsals begin and the production begins to take shape. As a producer, you should be checking in with your Stage Manager as they make notes about any aspects of the production that may call for support from Front of House or that will be unique or challenging for Front of House. The more you know about the audience experience in your production, the more you can plan the personnel that will be required. Here are some of the things you should consider when budgeting and planning your FoH team:
- Will you be offering concessions? When will they be for sale (before the performance, during intermission, after the performance)?
- Will you be serving alcohol?
- Depending on the time of year, are you planning to offer a coat check?
- How many entrances to the theatre space will require an usher stationed at the door?
- Will you be using physical tickets that need to be ripped at the door?
- Will it be general admission or assigned seating?
- Does the audience move around at all during the performance?
- If you aren’t using a traditional performance space, what is the seating configuration?
Aside from your Front of House Manager, who will have a lot of responsibility and should always be a paid position, your FOH team may be paid hourly or they may be filled by volunteers. Remember, however, that although it may save you money to have volunteers, it will take time and energy to organize, schedule, train, and properly thank your volunteers for their contribution to your production. If you are planning to allocate complimentary tickets for your volunteers, you should consider this when calculating your box office potential.
Often the budget for FoH does not consider the need for having a paid FoH Manager, but it is an incredibly important role as they ensure that everything happening outside of the theatre space is functioning properly, as well as ensuring the comfort and safety of the audience while they are in the theatre space. If the venue you are renting does not have a Front of House Manager that will be working during your production, consider the following requirements when hiring an individual for your production.
- The individual selected should feel comfortable leading a team independently.
- They should be able to easily interact with patrons to provide excellent customer service.
- They should be able to work calmly under pressure and be able to troubleshoot.
- If possible, it is extremely useful for them to have First Aid and CPR certification.
- If applicable, they need to be knowledgeable about the legislation regarding the sale of alcohol, as they will be responsible for ensuring compliance.
When considering the amount of money you will need to pay your Front of House Manager, remember that they will need to arrive at least one (1) hour prior to the scheduled performance start time (possibly earlier depending on when your house opens and how much needs to be done before your audience arrives at the venue) and they will need to stay at least 30 minutes after the performance is scheduled to end to tidy the lobby, close any concessions/bar, empty garbage bins, and tidy the house.
Ushers work with your Front of House Manager to assist with providing the audience with information about the performance, passing out programs, helping the audience in and out of the theatre, and generally improving the audience’s experience.
Things to consider when deciding if you need ushers for your production:
- Will you need someone to sit outside the performance space to help with late-seating?
- Do you need an usher inside the house? This could be required if it will be difficult for patrons to find their way out of the space if they need to leave mid-performance (stairs, dim lighting, etc.).
- Will there be assigned seating or will it be general admission?
- Will there be physical tickets to check as patrons enter the space?
- Is there pre-seating for people with disabilities that your ushers will have to assist with?
Each of these questions will give you a better sense of how many ushers (if any) your production would benefit from having. If you are allowing late seating during your performance, it is incredibly useful to have ushers who can help seat the patron as quickly and quietly as possible. Ushers can help to ensure that any late patrons only enter the house at appropriate times, and an usher sitting inside the theatre space will have the best sense of where available seats may be located.
Having volunteer ushers is a great way to engage with the community and provide individuals with theatre experience. If you have a Volunteer and/or Outreach Coordinator, they would be the person to facilitate reaching out to the community and collecting a list of interested individuals. If not, the Producer should be taking the time to organize volunteers. Because volunteers are volunteering their time for free, be aware that there is the chance that volunteers won’t show up on the day of their shift. You should have a contingency plan for what happens if you don’t have enough ushers on any given day. In order to incentivize your volunteers, make sure to be friendly and welcoming when they are working with your team and give them tasks so they feel as though their time is being valued. The more important a volunteer feels within your team and your production, the more likely it is that they’ll want to return to help again in the future.
Reporting to the Producer and to the FoH Manager, the individual(s) in this position is responsible for selling tickets, distributing will-call tickets, and assisting patrons with any ticketing questions or requests. This individual should be comfortable handling cash and any other form of payment you are accepting at the box office (credit card, debit, etc.). Patrons often bring their questions about the performance to the box office, so it is important that you provide as much information as possible to your Box Office Attendant so they can answer questions correctly and with confidence. This information includes: running time of the show, if there are any intermissions if the performance is appropriate for children/teenagers if there are any effects that patrons should know about (haze, fog, strobe lighting, loud noises), and the late seating/re-entry policy for the performance. The Box Office Attendant should also be informed of the ticketing policy, especially whether or not you will allow exchanges or refunds in certain situations. The box office should also have signage and information about if the show is accessible (ie. ASL performance, relaxed performance, etc.) and also if the person at the box office is able to communicate in alternate ways with patrons who require hearing assistive devices, speak ASL, etc. Make sure to have all of this information available to the Box Office Attendant before the production opens, and go over it with them to make sure they feel comfortable iterating the information to your patrons.
These are all general things to consider to help you create a Front of House Checklist for your Front of House team. Each production and each venue will have specific requirements that should be added to your checklist so that they are taken care of for each performance.
The House Manager should be scheduled to arrive at least one (1) hour before the scheduled start time to check the condition of the house and lobby. If you are also scheduling ushers, they should be scheduled at least twenty (20) minutes before you plan to open the house. They can assist with checking the house and preparing programs while the FoH Manager completes other tasks. Here are things to consider before the audience arrives in the lobby:
- Is the outside entrance area clean, clear of paper, leaves, and other debris?
- Are emergency exit doors closed and fastened so that unauthorized individuals cannot gain access to the performance space?
- Are all outside entrance lights working? Are all the lobby areas, including restrooms, well lit?
- If there is inclement weather, are there mats that can be placed at the entrances to avoid tracking excess dirt into the space? This is especially important if lobby floors are not carpeted as pooling water could be a slipping hazard for patrons.
- Check that the FoH Manager's phone is working if needed to call 911 at any point.
- Are fire extinguishers clearly visible and available for immediate use?
- Is the lobby and the house at a comfortable temperature? Depending on the time of year, the FoH Manager should work together with the Stage Manager to make sure that the space is comfortable for patrons, but that it is also a comfortable temperature for the actors.
- Are the restrooms available and clean? Be sure that there is a supply of paper towels and soap. Check that waste containers are reasonably empty. Restrooms should be checked again after any intermissions, and again after the performance has ended and the audience has left.
- Are all lobby garbage cans reasonably empty and positioned in the ideal spots for disposal of any concessions (snack containers, empty cups, etc.)? If needed, is there a recycling bin?
- Are any interior displays of cast photos, reviews, etc. properly set up without obstructing the flow of patrons from the entrance into the lobby?
- Are any reserved sections (if working in a general admission house) ordered by the Box Office properly marked?
- Be sure that forms needed to add a patron's name to a mailing list or e-mail list are available.
While the audience arrives in the lobby, the FoH Manager and/or ushers should continue to prepare the space by considering the following:
- Is the theatre neat and tidy? The stage manager will sweep and mop the stage, but it is the responsibility of FoH to keep the audience area tidy. This includes picking up programs that have been left after each performance, any garbage or forgotten items under the seats, and collecting any reserved signs that have been used. Typically, this task is assigned to ushers.
- The FoH Manager should know where cleaning supplies and equipment are kept. If the lobby needs any kind of clean-up, it is the responsibility of Front of House to take care of it and make sure the lobby is tidy and safe.
- Doors and curtains between lobby and auditorium should be fully open when admitting patrons.
- Are all obstacles that might not be seen in the dark removed before patrons are admitted? Any electrical lines running across the floor should be covered with tape and be well-lit when audiences enter the space. If possible, assign an usher to stand by to ensure that no one trips.
- Is the proper house lighting turned on before the audience enters the space?
- Are exit lights clearly visible?
- Are enough programs on hand? Are they all stuffed with the necessary inserts?
The doors to the performance space should be opened with enough time to reasonably let the audience enter the space and find their seat before the performance begins. This time frame will be different depending on the size of your audience and the type of production. Are the actors visible during the pre-show or are they backstage? As a producer, you should decide when the house will open ahead of time with your Stage Manager and the Director. When you have decided when the house will open, you can work backwards to decide when you will open your box office and the lobby to the public. Opening the box office 30 minutes prior to the start of the performance is standard, if not longer, but you will know the requirements of your production best.
When you do open the house, it is useful to have an announcement with key information about the performance. If possible, you can make this announcement over an audio system. If not, the FoH Manager will need to get the attention of the audience in the lobby and use a loud, clear voice. Information you may want to cover in this announcement includes:
- Name of the Production
- Length of the Production
- Location of Restrooms
- Asking patrons to turn off cell phones/pagers/anything that lights up or makes noise
- Informing patrons whether or not there is late seating and/or if there is a policy for re-seating patrons if they leave the theatre during the performance.
- Informing patrons of any concessions for sale and whether or not they can bring food or drink into the theatre.
- Informing patrons if there is merchandise for sale and whether it will be for sale during the intermission (if applicable) or after the performance.
Each production has a different policy regarding late seating. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not you will allow late seating, which include:
Where the entrance to the space is in relation to the audience and the stage
How discreetly you can open and close the entrance to the space without disrupting the performance.
Are there blackout curtains between the lobby and the entrance to the space? Do you have control over the lighting in the lobby?
What is the tone of your performance? Will late seating be distracting to the rest of the audience?
Are you able to reserve seating for latecomers?
Late seating should be discussed with your Director and your Stage Manager. They will have the best sense of whether or not it is appropriate for the production and, if so, when they should occur. Some productions will be relaxed and late seating can occur at any point, some productions will have very specific late seating policies. Whatever the case may be, it is imperative that the late seating policy be communicated to your audience before the performance (when a patron purchases their ticket as well as in the lobby before the performance begins). Your FoH team should know the late seating policy before the performance begins and should be prepared to convey this policy to any late patrons. If there is no late seating or the patron has missed the late seating, either the FoH Manager or Box Office should be prepared to inform the patron whether they can exchange their ticket to a different performance or get a refund. As the producer, this should be a policy you decide upon before the production opens and it should be clearly explained to your Box Office and your FoH team so that they are able to be consistent and clear with all patrons.
If your production calls for an intermission, you will need to make some decisions with your artistic team and stage manager in order to give the appropriate details to your FoH team. Firstly, you need to decide on the length of the intermission. When making this decision, consider the size of your audience, how many restrooms are available to your audience, whether or not you are selling concessions and/or merchandise during the intermission, and how long is suitable based on the actual length of the full production. For example, if you have a large audience and only a single restroom available at the venue, you have to consider the fact that there will probably be a long line of patrons waiting to use the restroom and will probably need to have a longer intermission to try and accommodate. Whatever you decide, it is important to communicate how long you plan to have your intermission to your FoH team and how much leeway you are giving your FoH Manager when it comes to holding the house before starting the next act. The FoH Manager should communicate directly with the Stage Manager when they are giving the house back to them.
Secondly, you will need to consider whether or not you want to sell concession or merchandise (if applicable) during the intermission. Check with your venue to find out if they provide concessions or have a bar that they can offer as part of your rental agreement. If not, you will have to decide if you want to set up concessions and merchandise on your own (see 2.5. Concessions & Merchandise). Although this is an opportune time to increase your revenue, make sure you consider how many individuals you have on your team and who will be available to work during the intermission to keep things moving quickly and efficiently. Try to be as realistic as possible about how many people you will have available to work during the intermission as you decide what services you want to provide your patrons. You should also consider whether or not you can allow patrons to bring concessions into the performance space after the intermission. If not, consider what you want to make available to patrons if they will only have a limited time to enjoy their purchase.
If you are using ushers, they will be the first people on your team to know that intermission is beginning and should be in charge of re-opening the doors. As the run continues, the FoH team will have a better sense of when the intermission occurs and they will be able to prepare anything that needs to be set up before the audience returns to the lobby. Ushers should be readily available to answer such questions as the length of the intermission, the location of restrooms, appropriate areas outside for smoking, and where (if applicable) concessions and/or merchandise are being sold. If you are setting up a sign-up sheet for your company’s mailing list, it should be prominently displayed during the intermission. The FoH Manager should be free to move about the space and assist where needed if there are long lines. The FoH Manager should give a 5-minute warning and flicker the lights to notify the audience that they should start to return to their seats.
Before ending the intermission, the House Manager and/or an usher should check to see that all patrons are clear from the restrooms and any other lobby areas where patrons may have been sitting. If patrons are still waiting for the restroom or concessions, it is up to the FoH Manager to make the decision to extend the intermission as necessary. Any extension should be communicated to the Stage Manager so they can give the performers appropriate notice for the beginning of the next act.
When the performance ends, an usher or the FoH Manager should open the doors. If possible, it is great to have a bin to collect any programs that patrons aren’t planning on keeping so that you can recycle them. After the audience has left the performance space, the ushers or FoH Manager should do a quick walk-through to see if anyone has left anything behind. If so, these items should be brought to the lobby and someone from the FoH team should be stationed there in case the individual comes to ask if their item has been found. During the walk-through, any programs that were left on the seats or floor should be collected, along with any garbage.
It should be decided between the Stage Manager and the FoH Manager who will stay to lock up the space at the end of the day. In most cases, the Stage Manager will have the keys to a rental venue, in which case it would make the most sense for them to be the last person out of the venue. Either way, the FoH Manager should complete a House Report to send to the Stage Manager, Producer, and any other company members who’ve requested to receive these reports.
The FoH Manager should sign off on any volunteer shifts before they leave and should do a walk through the lobby area to make sure there are no patrons in the restrooms or in any seating area. If any patrons are being picked up by WheelTrans, the FoH team should be available to help them, if need be, to get to the pick-up point. The lobby area should remain open to the patron until they are picked up. The FoH Manager should change any garbage bins that need to be emptied, and generally ensure that any areas open to the public in the space are in good condition. When the FoH Manager has completed their duties, they should check in with the Stage Manager to let them know that they are leaving and, if possible, lock the main entrance on their way out so that the public no longer has access to the space.
There are two main reports that are useful for a FoH Manager to document how each performance runs, including anything that the Producer and the company would want to be aware of. The House Report is a basic report that lists the details of the performance, plus a short summary of events from the FoH Manager that would include anything noteworthy from before, during, and after the performance. An Incident Report would be completed if an accident or any kind of medical incident was to occur. Depending on whether this incident occurred in the performance space or in the lobby, this may be completed by a Stage Manager instead of the FoH Manager.
A House Report should cover all the basic information you would want to know about how the performance ran and what happened. Each report should include (but not be limited to):
- When the lobby was opened to the public
- When the theatre doors were opened for patrons
- Performance Start Time
- Intermission Start/End Time
- Performance End Time
- The reason for any holds (either before the performance or coming out of intermission)
- House Count
- Weather Outside
- Notes About the Performance
- Names of Those Working the Performance (FoH Manager, Ushers, Box Office, etc.)
- Any Notes About Volunteers (issues, concerns, positive feedback, etc.)
The easiest way to circulate a House Report is by email, but if your FoH Manager isn’t using a computer at your venue, make sure to have printed templates for the report available to them and then have them deliver their report to the Stage Manager when you are not present for a performance. If there is anything that needs to be passed on immediately, the Stage Manager can include it in their Show Report, and if not you can collect the reports from them the next time you’re at the venue.