The Hollywood Bowl Entertains a Patron-turned-Usher
The Hollywood Bowl first entertained Los Angeles music lovers in 1922 and has since become an internationally renowned outdoor concert venue hosting classical performances, ballet, opera, rock and jazz alike on a stage that has been remodeled and improved almost as many times as there are layers in the Bowl’s shell.
The venue’s eclectic blend of music attracted my ear, and as a patron, I took advantage of its proximity every chance I could. I celebrated the creative prowess of George Gershwin during the Bowl’s special musical tribute week in July, marveled at how well-maintained the voice of Etta James still sounds and sat breathless as Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ was magnificently accompanied by fantastic fireworks. The Bowl’s outdoor setting contributes to a rare sense of personal freedom and intimacy to nature, even in the ‘nosebleed’ seats (those farthest from the stage), which can be purchased for as little as one to three dollars for most concerts. The cost of parking compensates for any perceived value at the Bowl as the bill will lighten wallets by a minimum of $14. Instead, I recommend considering the busses which shuttle patrons from various parking lots across the city for only three dollars a head. Busses also serve the ushers, who are transported to the Bowl from a nearby parking lot. After I was hired to serve as an usher at the Bowl, I initially found it difficult to resolve my conflicting mindsets. While I was thrilled to be able to see and listen to so many musically varied concerts, the world-famous venue now became a work zone in which I had to maintain professionalism and assure that the experience of visiting patrons was as satisfying as mine had been when I was a patron.
Reflecting on my brief summer with the Bowl, I can remember no group of extroverts who enjoyed themselves more than the thousands of fans who came to the 30th anniversary showing of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’
As I had had one day of Bowl experience prior to the show that Sept. 5 evening, the crowd was very intimidating, despite numbering just over half the Bowl’s full capacity of 17,391 seats. After the festivities began, my intimidation became fascination of this cult classic’s fans.
Had I not become an usher at the Bowl, I would not have partaken in the largest Rocky Horror showing in history, nor would I have participated in an interactive presentation which included outlandish costumes, squirt guns, flying bread and confetti. On Sept. 11, Destination Hawaii, a night of contemporary Hawaiian music, hit the Bowl. When the popular Hawaiian female trio Na Leo ended their harmonic set, the crowd showed their appreciation of the artists by waving glowing cell phones back and forth in sync with the rhythms of the music. From my vantage point close to the stage, I could see hundreds of cell phones swaying back and forth in the audience. Na Leo, touched by this lighter-like gesture, thanked the audience and noted that they definitely felt the Aloha spirit.
The apparent privilege of being able to watch every concert on the Bowl’s schedule at times made working at the Bowl actually feel like a job. Surprisingly, this first occurred with Brian Wilson when he performed ‘Smile.’ He led his band on a reminiscent and danceable tour of past Beach Boys hits as well as songs from the new album all while remaining nearly motionless and pathetically without any facial expression, likely due to years of experimentation on the road touring. That same experimentation which has left Brian Wilson visibly tired often troubles Bowl ushers. Although smoking is not permitted in the theater at any time, rowdy rock crowds often try regardless of Bowl rules. The resulting struggle between ushers and patrons is one which distinctly reminds me of the arcade classic in which the player must beat animal heads who stubbornly continue to pop their heads to greet you