A crowded staircase leads to a dark hallway. Graffiti mars the walls. A sickly plastic film lines entrances as if sealing in some contagion. And a tall, expressionless man wearing a hazmat suit approaches, telling you to join the line and prepare to be stamped.
Is this some kind of nightmare (or a return to 1980’s NYC clubbing)? No, it’s just the usher welcoming you to Rattlestick Theater’s production of Through the Yellow Hour, a post-apocalyptic Off-Broadway thriller by Adam Rapp, currently extended through November 10.
As my neck was stamped and my boundaries unsettled, I started to wonder about these ushers and their non-traditional duties — invading patrons’ personal space and setting up the world of the play with a gleeful intensity. The theater was counting on them to do a lot more than hand out playbills; in fact, they were the first act of the play.
On a recent sunny afternoon with not an invading biological weapon in sight, I met two people who’ve ushered at The Yellow Hour — Mat Leonard, a handsome and thoughtful young actor currently appearing in The Austerity of Hope at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, and Olivia Simas, an energetic and articulate local high school student with a passion for theater — and we chatted about unflattering gear, Big Brother and some very testy audience members.
How did you first get involved in doing this very unusual job?
Mat: I’d seen The Hallway Trilogy at Rattlestick and I’d sort of had been checking up on them while I was on tour last year. My friend Allison who lives in the city was ushering and said, “So there’s another play by Adam Rapp opening and you wouldn’t shut up about Nursing [one of the parts of the trilogy]. Would you be interested in ushering?” She sent me the link and I signed up. And all of sudden you show up and they’re like, “You want to put on this costume?”