Life in Birmingham Hippodrome’s Box Office…

This week, Box Office Supervisor Paul Brotherton tells us about how he came to work at the theatre and about working in a very busy ticket office…

Paul at his desk in the Box Office

Paul at his desk in the Box Office

Hello, I’m Paul, one of three Box Office Supervisors here at Birmingham Hippodrome. I work within a relatively small and diverse team. My journey at the theatre began almost three years ago, in October 2009, when I was employed as a full time Information & Sales Assistant. Before this, I spent three years by the sea at Aberystwyth University studying drama, where I was President of the drama society, taking part in a number of performances in and out of University drama department. Now, as we are asked by the cast of Avenue Q, “What do you do with a BA in English” well equally I asked myself what I might be able to do with my BA in Drama after three years of study…

So off I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for two months to work in Box Office. I don’t think I had ever worked so hard before that, long shifts, constant queues and theatre in every kind of venue you could imagine. I remember sitting on the Box Office counter one morning towards the latter end of the festival wondering what on earth I was going to do when I went home and up popped a job working in Box Office at the Birmingham Hippodrome, a theatre I had loved visiting since I was a youngster. Off the application form went and along came the interview and, here I am today.

Paul on the Box Office front counter.

Paul on the Box Office front counter.

I was lucky enough to receive a promotion to Supervisor last year, which has brought new challenges and responsibilities. Within Box Office management we all have our individual duties, it is my responsibility to set up each show on our ticketing system, for example, so they’re ready for you to buy from us over the telephone, in person or online. This can be quite intricate work, (particularly when you’re setting up a twelve week summer show across three different pricing schedules!) but equally rewarding. Aside from “set up”, you might find me counting the takings from the previous day’s business, dealing with customer queries, liaising with other departments such as education, development and Birmingham Royal Ballet and acting as a point of contact for visiting companies.

Our Box Office employs a diverse bunch, all with different interests and strengths and there is never a dull moment in the office.  Every member of the team is equipped with the expertise and knowledge needed to deliver the best possible service to you. It’s not just tickets we sell, it’s us you speak to to make your restaurant reservations, book your theatre packages and administer your friends’ membership, to name but a few of the strings in our large bow. There are lots of exciting new shows to be announced in our upcoming season, so stay tuned, but in the meantime I’m most looking forward to Sister Act and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Aladdin. I like the ballet’s mixed bills too, I always think that there’s something there for everyone to enjoy.

Away from work, I enjoy partaking in a bit of amateur dramatics and am a member of the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham city centre.  There are a great number of opportunities for members to get involved in the Crescent’s varied programme, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a touring Shakespeare as well as playing Pike in Dad’s Army and a mute in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.  I’m a big music fan too and enjoy going to a good gig, when I can, in and around the city centre as well as adding to my ever growing CD collection.

Look forward to speaking to you all soon on the telephone!


The curtain comes down on 2011…

What a difference a year makes, and how quickly it has flown by! In the flash of a magic wand and the drop of confetti, Panto season is well and truly underway and now we turn our attentions to reflecting on the year gone by and the year to come.

Me and Princeton from Avenue Q!

Me and Princeton from Avenue Q!

Personally, as Press & PR Assistant here at Birmingham Hippodrome I am extremely fortunate enough to see the fabulous array of productions that grace our stage throughout the year – but, like anyone, we all have our favourites so I thought I would share some of mine and invite you to tell us yours…?

Beginning with the musicals, personal highlights have to be the glorious Top Hat (complete with black tie opening night) which is now deservedly heading into the West End and the hilarious Avenue Q. I must say the press call that we held ahead of the arrival of Avenue Q was also tremendous fun and featured some very naughty puppets talking about rude things with our journalists!

Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow

Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow

Tracie Bennett  gets my outstanding performance of the year award for her star turn in End of the Rainbow and David Bintley and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Carmina Burana is my dance highlight of 2011. The return of the incomparable Slava’s Snowshow rounds off my top picks, but not to say there weren’t many, many others that I could have plucked out of the calendar in what was certainly a packed programme of events.

One of my best days at work of the year has to be when me and Basil Brush hit the road for a day of interviews, photo calls and a trip to a local school – so showbiz darling and a very nice, friendly fox!

Obviously 2012 is a special year for us as we take on essential work in replacing our stage with the New Stage Appeal, allowing us to continue as one of the best venues in the country for showcasing world class performance, please help pledge your support  HERE – every penny really does count.

So, this leads me to one last point…what was your highlight of 2011 and what are you looking forward to in 2012? Oh, and a very happy new year from all of us at Birmingham Hippodrome!

Audio described performances &Touch Tours at Birmingham Hippodrome – my first experience

We  are delighted to welcome guest blogger Emma Beattie.  Emma is  a member of the theatre’s Access Forum.   Here she writes honestly about her and  her guide dog Rupert’s  first experience of an Audio Described performance and Touch Tour.

I haven’t been to the theatre since I suffered sight loss 6 years ago.  It was something that I thought was no longer available to me, part of my former existence that was mourned, along with driving and reading, and that I resolutely refused to allow myself to miss.   However, a serendipitous meeting via a visit to a public event with my children, led to my becoming involved with Birmingham Hippodrome’s Access forum.  Here I was persuaded that my denial driven dislike of audio description was worth reconsidering and that theatre was still something that I could experience and enjoy.  Tentatively, and with huge reservations, I decided to come to the touch tour and to see the audio described performance of Avenue Q on 21 May 2011.  I enjoy musicals, love the Muppets and definitely needed a few laughs, so it seemed a good choice.

Emma and Rupert

I arrived at the Hippodrome with Rupert, my guide dog, where I was met by a member of staff.   I was only just in time, so we were immediately taken backstage for the touch tour.  I was surprised straight away.  The area behind the stage is vast, so there was plenty of room for the five people on the touch tour, three guide dogs, two audio describers, two staff members and the Avenue Q stage manager.  After a brief introduction we were taken onto the stage where the scenery was explained to us.  I was able to see into the puppets’ homes, which were small rooms concealed inside the larger terraced houses of the scenery.  In each room the furniture and decor dropped little hints about the owner’s character.   I learnt who lived in each house – both human and monster, I could walk along the street where the action would be, feel the paving and avoid the dustbins; I was being made privy to detail that adds dimension to any story.  When we had mapped the stage and understood the scenery, we got to meet the puppets.  By being close up I could see the colour of clothes, the different hairstyles and feel the textures – all details which would, for me, disappear into vague, hazy shapes at a distance.

Then it was time for a drink so, with my head full of puppets and scenery and the odd little precursory bits of knowledge that the touch tour gave me, I waited to be taken to my seat.  I was very excited and during this time I was given the headsets for the audio description and I learnt how to change the volume and turn them on and off.  When the auditorium opened, I was shown where my seat was and Rupert was taken away until the interval.  The dogs are supervised in the office where the theatre provides blankets and water bowls and Rupert apparently curled up and went to sleep. 

A few minutes before the show started there was an audio description introduction.  The scene was being set, the stage explained and there were introductions to the characters.  As this was my first performance I found this a good time to set my volume levels and to get used to the live audio description.

When the lights dimmed and the curtain went up I was transported to a small street in New York which was populated by monsters and people with everyday problems and an amusing and musical way of expressing themselves.  Rather bizarrely the monsters soon became indistinguishable from their human handlers and I found myself longing for a happy ending for all of them.  During the play the audio description was an extension that enabled me to understand what was happening on stage and to be included in the laughter at visual gags and it didn’t take long for me not to notice it.  At the end of the show Rupert was brought back to me.  I handed back my headset, put his harness on and left. 

Inside our audio description booth looking down towards the stage.

Avenue Q was a really good show to come and see.  It was very funny, totally irreverent and I loved it.  The audio description was very well done and I think the fact that I soon ceased to notice it attests to that.  Something to bear in mind is that I was sitting near the front and on the left hand side of the auditorium which was very close to the speaker.  This meant that I was continually adjusting the volume of my headset so that the audio description wasn’t drowned out during the songs, or too shouty during the quiet bits.  It may be that sitting more centrally would have reduced the need to do this.  Other than this it was a superlative experience and I cannot thank the Hippodrome, Avenue Q and the Audio Describers enough.  I am busy trying to decide what to come and see next.

Birmingham Hippodrome is committed to access for all.    For  detailed information on all our Access Performances please click here   To book  call our Ticket Sales team on 0844 5000.   Highlights include the brand new musical Top Hat, Evita, Cinderella and Calendar Girls.
Guidedogs are welcome and admitted into all public areas.    Birmingham Hippodrome staff can look after guide dogs during performances.    

Audio Description in theatre is a live verbal commentary on the visual elements of a production as it unfolds. The description gives only the essential information that a visually impaired patron might miss.

For every Audio Described performance we do, we have a Touch Tour that precedes the show.  Our Touch Tours allow visually impaired patrons the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the set, props and costumes.