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Overloaded By Forms

By on April 28, 2011No Comment

Recently I worked in the subscription office for a well known and highly respected Off-Broadway theatre company. Like most midsized Off-Broadway and regional theatre companies they rely mainly on fundraising and season subscriptions for revenue.  The company doesn’t have it’s own theatre so they rent different spaces around New York, this past season alone they produced four shows in four different theatres.

Forty one percent of the company’s audience are subscribers who live in the New York area.  They generally are older, well off, very knowledgeable about theatre and the performing arts, and attend a high number of performances each year.  When we took a subscription order we would fill out a form by hand with all of their information: credit card number, address, sub type, ect.  The credit cards would be run at the end of the week, and we would then make three to five copies of each order.  One would go to the financial dept with the original credit card receipt, between one and three would go to the theatre that was presenting one of our shows.  The last one would go into a binder for the subscription office’s own records.  The box office would us send back the tickets for each subscriber, and we would notate the seat number on each subscriber’s sheet and mail out the ticket.   There was an option to order through the website, but it wasn’t secured, so we would have to call them back to get their payment info over the phone.
For me, Information Overload would kick in at this point.  I would have about 1500 physical order forms in binders and have to talk to experienced theatre goers who were expecting to have their name in some sort of computerized database.  In normal box office software the person would have profile with a history of past subscriptions, donations, etc.  Instead, at this company, they had a completely separate program that notates all of the fundraising history from the same subscribers that are also in the ticket history books.  Each Friday I would have to compile all orders and deliver them to the separate theatres and pick up the new tickets, as well as complete all of the box office reports which were on excel files.  Because of budget and space limitations we only had one computer and one part time assistant who spent most of the time on the phone with subscribers trying to change their ticket dates.  Most theatres in New York require their renters to cover the price for each seat purchased by their subscribers, so each week a check has to go to each theatre, covering the seat.  This is done by a separate box office report that has to be given to the financial department.

I started out trying to find a way to computerize the system.  Because of who they are and because they’ve been doing things the same way for years, it was difficult to convince anyone to change.  There were days when my productivity was high because I was motivated to make the system work, but then there were many days when all the my time was spent trying to make sure the wheels weren’t coming off the whole thing.  By the time I got five months in I had ceased to be productive, and was just trying to keep my head above water.  When there were shows happening I had no support from the rest of the staff and just had to hope that the subscribers’ seats were for the correct nights and that all of the date changes that had been given to us all over the phone were correct.

The lack of centralized, computerized records, as well as a culture that had no interest in modernizing and taking steps to fix things, crushed my productivity, and I ultimately left the job.


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