Usher got into the job for the acoustics

Usher got into the job for the acoustics
Part-time usher Mr Chris Chuah.
PHOTO: TNP

An avid music fan, he used to collect hi-fi equipment until it got too expensive.

After all, one speaker alone can cost thousands of dollars - too pricey for the customer service officer in a healthcare company.

So when he heard about a job opening for an usher at the yet to be opened Esplanade in 2002, Mr Chris Chuah leapt at the opportunity. The news was, quite literally, music to his ears.

Today, he has ushered thousands of patrons at more than 1,200 live performances at the Esplanade and the Victoria Concert Hall so far.

Glance at the sidelines and the entrances of the concert halls and you will see the 54-year-old watching the performances too.

The sound?

It is better than anything that can come from his audiophile equipment.

"Nothing beats live performances and the acoustics of this place," says Mr Chuah as he gestures towards the Esplanade concert hall.

Ushering is a part-time job, he still works at his day job in healthcare.

Confesses the usher: "No matter how much I enjoy the performance, I have to keep a straight face and smile inside. I still have to do my job."

Together with his colleagues, they conduct ticket and baggage checks and direct people to their seats.

When the house light dims and the performance starts, he has to keep an eye out for any disruption from the crowd.

That entails watching for unauthorised recording of the performance, eating or drinking during events that prohibit it and resolving disputes between patrons.

TISSUE PAPER

"Some patrons like to reserve rows of seats with tissue paper or newspapers, especially at events like getai. I have to explain the reasons why they cannot do that," says Mr Chuah.

He once had to explain to an adult patron why he could not "tell the children to sit down and be quiet" during a performance by Australian children's music group Hi-5.

Ushers also have to put up with insults and physical shoving when they stop latecomers from disrupting other patrons.

"We can call for security officers to help us in worst-case scenarios," says Mr Chuah.

These procedures are all part of the mandatory training for all of the Esplanade's 350-odd ushers, who also work on a part-time basis.

Thirteen modules of classes account for the gamut of skills required, including interpersonal skills, crowd control, fire evacuation and responding to medical emergencies.

Even veteran ushers like Mr Chuah must attend yearly refresher courses on customer service.

To fit their personal schedules, ushers can look at all of the Esplanade's events on an online portal and apply to work for any of them.

This can range from classical music concerts to outdoor festivals, says Mr Chuah. His perennial favourite choices are, without a doubt, those that involve live music.

When the Broadway musical Abba performed here, he chose to usher at 30 shows because he is a big fan.

"One thing I learnt is that every performance feels different from different angles," he says with a laugh.

Mr Chuah declines to reveal his pay but says he is in the job for the experience and not for the money.

He has also sold his speaker set, he adds.

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

Invest in a pair of comfortable shoes. Some events may require you to stand for hours.

Before every event, visit the toilet and eat your meals first. You never know what might happen if you vacate your assigned spot.

If there is a conflict situation with a patron, make sure you stand near a closed-circuit television camera so that the exchange can be recorded and security is alerted to it.


This article was first published on June 21, 2015.
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