Jim Barry, masked and ready, was crouching on the top of the theater stairs with his hands around the outstretched smartphones so that he could see the seat numbers more easily.
“How are you? Nice jacket.”
“Go this way – it’s an easier way.”
“Do you need help, sir? The bathroom is right there. “
It was Saturday night at the St. James Theater.
Bruce Springsteen was back on stage.
Fans were back on the pitch.
And 15 months after the pandemic shut down Broadway, Barry, who had worked as an usher at St. James for 20 years, was back at work, giving compliments and reassurance as he steered people to the mezzanine, the toilet. the bar.
“Springsteen on Broadway” is essentially a one-man show, but its return has already brought about 75 people to work at St. James – not just Barry, but also another 30 ushers and ticket buyers, as well as merch sellers, bar staff, porters, Cleaners, stagehands, cashiers, two managers and an engineer.
More shows and jobs will return in August and September as Broadway’s 41 theaters slowly come back to life. Ultimately, Broadway recreation promises not just theater workers, but hotel clerks and bartenders, as well as taxi drivers and workers in the many industries that rely on theater traffic, which can be substantial: 14.8 million people saw it in the last full season before the pandemic a Broadway show.
Barry, a sociable 65-year-old grandfather from Staten Island, loves the theater but also relies on the job for his income and basic insurance.
“This job is not for everyone, but I’ve made it my own,” he said. Barry, a well-built man with white hair who is often mistaken for a security guard, prides himself on being punctual, jovial, and polite. “I can tell someone taps me on the back where the bathroom is while I tell someone in front of me where they are and also wave to someone in the corner. It’s controlled madness. “
When he got back to work after the shutdown, there were a few changes to master. He had to wear a mask – it is required for employees but not for customers – and struggled to be comfortable with small talk through the material. And the tickets were all digital now, which meant that his signature, where he passed the tickets behind his back while he accepted, checked and returned the stubs on offer, was no longer useful; Instead, he had to figure out how to quickly decipher all of these different screen fonts.
Still, he was happy to be back.
“No matter what, nothing can make me feel guilty because I’m back at home and the boss is at my home,” he said. “I want to be here.”
Barry, originally from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, made an unusual journey into the theater industry. He had worked in banking for 27 years, first as a cashier, then as a bank clerk in Times Square.
He saw theater occasionally and loved it. As a teenager he saw Danny Kaye in “Two by Two” and later in “Jesus Christ Superstar”. (“I couldn’t believe it was so amazing.”) But the production he most excitedly remembers is “Grease” at the Royale Theater; A friend gave him access to go on stage before the show. “I made the mistake,” he said.
June 30, 2021, 12:57 p.m. ET
When he decided to make more money and was looking for a second job, he reached out to one of his clients at the bank, a woman who worked in payroll at the Jujamcyn Theaters, which run five Broadway theaters, including St . James. She asked if he was ready to introduce.
That was in 2001. He worked the first shift at a dress rehearsal for “The Producers”, which was about to open. “You know you belong when your body is simply enveloped in euphoria,” he said.
He was addicted. For years he worked full-time at the bank, but also at night and on weekends in the theater; In 2016 he left the bank for good and now he works six days a week in the theater (the shifts are short – a full usher shift lasts 4.5 hours, but at each performance half of the staff are allowed to walk 30 minutes after the curtain, which is two hours after their start time).
It’s a union job for which the standard wage is $ 83.78 per show; Barry is a senior director, so he makes about $ 710 a week and adds social security and a small bank pension to his income. He was kept afloat by unemployment during the pandemic; Although he missed the theater, he was also happy to have more time for his girlfriend.
He has a commuter talent – it can take up to two hours to get to work, depending on whether he’s driving or taking the bus and how bad the traffic is. He arrives early, puts on his jujamcyn uniform (black suit, black shirt, black tie, with a red J on his chest) and sits in a theater entrance on West 44th Street, which he calls “my stoop,” and enjoys Coffee and a roll and greet passers-by, sometimes posing for a photo with an actor passing by.
Although he loves the theater, it’s hard to see any other shows than the one he’s working on – he’s usually on duty when other shows are on. But he mostly comes to the big ones.
In his own theater he has seen a mix of hits and flops. The latter, he said, “just makes you feel bad for everyone.” And what if he doesn’t like a show he’s working on? “We have the luxury of lobbies.”
Of course, there are headaches to deal with – intoxicated guests and die-hard videographers – but he prides himself on doing so with courtesy. For the cellphone curmudgeon, whose ranks have swelled since its inception, it will sometimes just float, which usually puts people ashamed to submit; Sometimes he’ll use a flashlight or shake his head to get someone’s attention and every now and then he’ll say something like, “Please don’t do this. If they see you, I’ll get in trouble. ”(“ Springsteen on Broadway ”doesn’t allow photos or videos up to the bow.)
How much does Barry love being part of the company? In March, sad not being at work in the theater for his 20th birthday, he and his girlfriend drove to Times Square and posed for a picture in front of each of Broadway’s 41 theaters.
“There’s an old saying – if you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life,” he said. “I’m so happy – I love making people feel good when they come to our home.”