At the Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence, R.I., the drama stays on the stage, where it belongs, not in the lobby or the audience. That’s in large part thanks to the theatre’s house manager, Christine Treglia, who handles all the comings and goings of the small theatre’s patrons, many of them loyal subscribers who come back again and again for the theatre’s adventurous programming (this season includes plays by Idris Goodwin and Paula Vogel, and the musicals Futurity and Fun Home). Indeed, next to artistic director Josh Short, for many patrons Treglia is the face of the theatre, greeting them and guiding them into the theatre’s flexible black box in an Olneyville warehouse, which can seat anywhere from 28 to 120.
“I’m the first person people see, so you feel a responsibility to tailor your tone to whatever kind of show you’re doing,” says Treglia, who also acts in at least one mainstage show a season (this month she’s in the Futurity ensemble). She also uses her position to do a bit of informal audience research. “I try to find out, what’s bringing them? What’s working? What do people want more of? Because we’re such a small organization, there are things we don’t even know we need to know, and we want to know how we can grow.”
A native of nearby Cranston, Treglia trained as an actor, and says she approaches the work of house manager as a kind of role, arriving a half hour before the theatre opens to ready herself and the space. Another kind of preparation may come in handy: Her day job is at the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, so, as she puts it, “There’s nothing that someone can complain about at the theatre that’s going to surprise me: Their seat was uncomfortable, or the sound wasn’t loud enough.”
She says she’s never had to remove a patron or give a refund in her four years at the job. “My job is to make it all smooth, and not panic,” she says. And while her colleague Short praises her hard work in making sure all patrons “have an unforgettable experience at our shows,” Treglia would emphasize the qualifier “at our shows.” She says, “People are there for the performance, and want the front of house to be well orchestrated—and something they don’t remember.”
Her advice for fellow house managers is simple: “Make sure the bar is fully stocked, and smile, smile, smile.” Given the theatre’s small and loyal fan base, she adds, “I consider it part of my job to recognize you and greet you. If it’s your first time here, I usually know.”
While hers is technically a part-time job, she concedes that “the hours end up being full-time.” But she’s not complaining. “I get to be here every night,” she says. Wait: get to or have to? “At Wilbury I never feel like I ‘have’ to be there. It’s fun to go there every night and appreciate the theatre from a different side than I’m used to.”
She even says that house managing gives her a new perspective when she’s onstage. “When I’m performing in a show there now, I have all these other layers of awareness—of how much those of us onstage appreciate the people on the other side.”