Local Current Blog

Six things I’ve learned as a Northrop usher

Jeffrey Thompson/MPR

Late last spring I got a job as an usher at Northrop, the newly refurbished concert hall at the heart of the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities campus. The majestic architecture and the famous acts who play the venue had always intrigued me, and working as an usher seemed like the perfect way to get to know both the building and my school a little better.

Our duties as ushers can be summarized easily: take tickets, help patrons find their seats, and tend to any and all customer service needs. However, our actual responsibilities play out in a varied array of situations: handling issues ranging from fangirls to scavenger hunts to first aid to childcare. Here’s a list of things I’ve learned in the months I’ve worked at Northrop:

1. Northrop isn’t just a concert hall. It’s a diverse venue that hosts a variety of different events: rock concerts, ballets, academic seminars, press conferences. The building has hosted dozens of graduations, and it’s been part of film festivals, dance performances, and overnight art galleries. The wide range of events means that building can get pretty busy, but it keeps the work interesting, as there’s always something new going on.

2. There is a very specific niche audience for each type of show. This seems obvious, but it’s an interesting phenomenon to observe. During the Eifman Ballet, for example, members of the local Russian community filled the atrium, running to embrace old friends and exclaiming excitedly in Russian. The Brit Floyd crowd was pretty predictable too: eager Baby Boomers wistfully recounting to me the time they saw the “the real Pink Floyd” in concert when they were “just about your age!” But other demographics are more surprising: Lindsey Stirling filled the hall with middle-aged Game-of-Thrones-fan types, and Miranda Sings had a lot more kindergarteners than her expletive-filled set would have led you to expect.

3. There is a lot that goes into the production of a show. As ushers we stay mostly in the auditorium, but the backstage action that we do see is impressive. Because the building hosts shows instead of putting them on, the lighting, sound, set and security all have to be installed the day of a show. It takes a significant amount of manpower and efficiency to stage performances of the size that Northrop does, yet the crew gets it done night after night without a hitch.

4. You don’t know real fear until you encounter 2,500+ screaming middle school girls in anticipation of a cute 17-year-old Vine star about to serenade them for the night. The night Shawn Mendes played, preteens decked out in homemade t-shirts flooded the auditorium, squealing and singing along, leaning over the railings to record Snapchat stories, and nearly giving me a heart attack in the process.

5. There is no demographic more determined and discombobulated than guests who are late for a family member’s college graduation. I’ve seen out-of-breath dads race up four flights of stairs, mothers stand in the back holding impatient toddlers for hours, and grandparents rush straight from an eight-hour car ride to their seats, all in valiant effort to see their loved ones walk across the stage.

6. When I started at Northrop I was just excited to work in such a beautiful building, where I’d get paid to see world-class dance troupes and famous rock bands. But working at a venue which hosts such a variety of events has meant more than just free shows: in discovering the inner workings of a concert hall and learning what happens behind the scenes of a music production, I’ve gained a new perspective on what goes into a show, and my experience as a concertgoer has been transformed as well.

Raisa Elhadi is a student at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.