Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Right Hand Red

By BLO's Audience Services Manager, Kate Walsh

I’ve often said with regard to box office ticketing that, like sausage making, it is best to just enjoy the end result.  
Much to many people’s surprise, mainly my mother’s, there is a lot that happens before you hand your ticket to the usher.  During the summer months, aside from breaking into impromptu opera dance parties, the ticketing office turns into a giant game of ticketing Twister.  Just go with it... it’ll make sense in a minute.  

Think of the Shubert Theatre. Think of all those seats as circles on a Twister mat.  Each time we sell a subscription we seat a subscriber on a circle.  Now break it apart into three Twister mats as each subscription has three shows.  A lot of times during the subscription renewal process people like to change their seats.  We wait until summer to do this so that everyone has enough time to renew.  We then release the seats that haven't been purchased and begin seating!  Later in the summer subscribers can make exchanges between performances if they have a conflict.  Now imagine 45 Twister mats. As fall approaches we give over seats to the Shubert and Telecharge to sell as individual ticket buys while we continue to sell new subscriptions and complete exchanges. You can see now why we’re very limber people.

At this point we need to get tickets in the mail!  
Warning: This section contains mind-numbing material about computer stuff.  Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery after reading.  Do not use if you are pregnant, intend to become pregnant, or might be pregnant.

For this we have to pull data about each subscriber. Name, address, subscription/ticketing information, and send it all to our ticketing printer who will then mail merge and print them. We then receive the sheets of tickets and check them for accuracy. We also put together collateral to tell you more about your benefits as a subscriber — did you know you get restaurant discounts?  Ask your box office about food, we may not be able to tell you why the Red Line can’t get it together, but we can tell you where to get the best meal with the shortest walking distance to a coordinating dessert.  It’s a skill.  We then create an elaborate assembly line akin to Henry Ford himself (thanks for that Wikipedia!)  We edit, fold, stuff, seal and stamp roughly 2,500 subscriptions!  By “we” I mean a staff of 3 including our lovely intern Katie! After the subscriptions are sent out we then print in-house anyone who needs changes as well as all our new subscribers who purchased after the above mind-number data has happened.

My mother always said that working on phones is payback for when I was a teenager and would never get off the phone.
The above is said with complete love of my job, but because a lot of patrons mostly do business by phone due to proximity we do spend a lot of time on the phones. Roughly 35 hours a week to be exact!  We work with colleges and other groups to arrange group ticketing packages and help create memorable experiences for them.  We give directions, help book restaurant reservations and suggest hotels.  We tell you where to pahk your cahr in Hahvad Yahd... not really, but I’m from the South so that’s the best New England accent I can do.  We are the concierges of the arts world.  We try to “translate” the premise of various operas to newbies. My favorite was when a very novice patron said he knew nothing about opera, “Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart in Italy by cornering him in the opera coliseum and sings Vesti la giubba?”  “Have you ever seen Looney Toons?”  “Kill the Wabbit!  Kill the Wabbit!”- there, I knew Elmer Fudd would jog your memory.”

You too can possess this much useless information.  I can’t tell you who was president in 1902, but I can tell you who won the Tony for Best Leading Actress in Musical in 1978, I can quote 65% of all of the scripts from the “Golden Girls” TV show, and I have an unfulfilled dream of creating “Op-corn” which is selling popcorn at operas in little Viking helmets.  All of these topics of conversation have resulted in the sale of a ticket. 

We build relationships with our patrons and donors. We are at every show, we touch every ticket, we are typically the first interaction you have with BLO and we hope we have made/will make it a positive and lasting one.  We are the few, the proud, the constantly over-caffeinated. We are the Box Office. 

Now… Right Hand Red.

Monday, June 27, 2011


On Friday morning it was announced by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman that our very own John Conklin, BLO’s Artistic Advisor since 2008, is among the four recipients of the 2011 NEA Opera Honors—the highest award our nation bestows in opera! The other three award recipients include mezzo soprano Risë Stevens, composer Robert Ward, and Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins. Past NEA Opera Honorees include John Adams, Philip Glass, Marilyn Horne, James Levine, and many more acclaimed artists. Congratulations, John! Read the full press release here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Exciting new Opera-tunity for Schools

Julie House at the 2009 Open House
A guest post written by BLO's Education & Community Programs Manager Julie House. 

Thinking back, I bet you can remember several field trips you took in school and what field trip days were like. You probably couldn't fall asleep the night before because you were too excited, and you may have had a special outfit to wear for the occasion. Field trips were a formative part of our school days because they let us break our routines and do something fun and creative. We were interacting with the “real world” and not just reading about it from our desks.

Sadly, the days of field trips are few and far between for many schools today. How could this tremendous rite of passage be allowed to slip away? Well for starters, gassing up a school bus is really dang expensive. Given the option of spending money on gas or something else, most schools pick something else. (Who likes paying for gas? Certainly not me.) Second, school days just aren’t long enough for teachers to accomplish everything they need to like the good ol’ “3 R’s” and the new focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). It’s no small feat to get kids ready to be tested in these areas when you only have September-June to do it. The result? Fewer field trips. Oh, and less art altogether, but that’s a post for another day.

If you’re me, you’re looking at this scenario and saying to yourself, “What can I do to help teachers provide some special days for their students where they break routines and do something creative?” The answer? Music! Words! Opera! No, that’s not three answers, it’s the name of the new curriculum BLO is providing to schools that takes opera right into the classroom. No gas to pay for. No time lost driving back and forth. Opera right in front of your desk!

Here’s how it works: any teacher who wants to can come to a FREE five-day workshop August 8-12 at BLO to learn about opera through the Music! Words! Opera! curriculum. We will be focusing on The Barber of Seville since it is part of BLO’s upcoming season. Then, teachers will work on creating an original opera piece with their students! When the school year starts up teachers can apply what they learned in the workshop to leading their students step-by-step through the lessons until they have a piece ready to perform!

BLO will be involved all along the way: Obviously, questions come up and the Education Department is there to help. Teachers can also request classroom visits by a singer, director, and designer and help from a real composer. Students will also be invited to attend a working rehearsal of The Barber of Seville — I refuse to give up on field trips! Finally, each classroom to create its own opera will be invited to a festival day where they will perform for one another. The goal is to get kids involved in making art and gather up all the intrinsic benefits of doing so along the way.

If you’d like more information on Music! Words! Opera! or anything else going on in BLO’s Education Department, call Julie House at 617.542.4912 x242 or email

-- Julie House, Education & Community Programs Manager

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pay Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain

“It will not always be summer: build barns.”
                                                          -- Hesiod

Ah, the summer at BLO. Quiet phones, reasonable amounts of email, the Scooperbowl! In the Artistic Department, this is most certainly a season to rest, lick our wounds, and in many cases, use up all of the vacation days we have accrued over the last eight months. Some of us take particular joy in attending the summer festivals of other opera companies, and as we stand by the bar after the second intermission, sipping a gin and tonic without a drop of production-related anxiety, it is possible to remember how enjoyable opera can be. 

But, like all good things, vacations are soon over, and we soon find ourselves back in the office, looking ahead in the calendar. Almost immediately after the close of the season (and often before), we are busy adding flesh, tendons, and other viscous material to the skeleton that is the upcoming season. While casting is generally complete at this point, there remains a mountain of contracts to be issued, meetings between directors and designers to schedule, and a great big mid-summer concert to coordinate.

This period of preparation is awfully rewarding, and certainly one of my favorite points in the year. From this vantage point, we can see the events of the next year slowly coming together, and the production that was only a twinkle in our eye a few years ago, starting to come into focus. This is also calming to us, because we are, as a rule, terrible at dealing with free time (we simply don’t know what to do with the stuff), and notions of impending arrivals and other deadlines are reassuring.

So, as we head towards July and the office air conditioners spring reluctantly to life, we can be found pushing that huge opera-rock up the hill towards Opening Night (Sisyphus-style), but also maintaining a healthy ‘love-you-from-here’ sort of attitude.

-- Erik Johnson, Artistic Coordinator

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hot-tempered Arias in the City

With temperatures in Boston predicted to climb well into the 90s today, we thought it the perfect opportunity to share some of our favorite hot-tempered arias with you.

Stay hot, dear readers, and enjoy!

Maria Callas in Covent Garden performs Habanera (Carmen, Georges Bizet)

Angela Gheorghiu performs Si, Mi chiamano Mimi (La Bohème, Puccini)

Renee Fleming performs Un bel di vedremo (Madama ButterflyPuccini)

Cecilia Bartoli performs Voi, che sapete (The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart)

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa performs Vissi d'arte (ToscaPuccini)