Thursday, April 1, 2010

Good Riddance, Lakeshore Theater; The Balloon Knot Chronicles

By: T.R. Slyder,, AndyDisco on Twitter

Lakeshore Theater is going out of business.

You might be wondering if I have a story about that place.

Yes I do.

A long time ago, I was looking for a part-time job and hoping to scratch a creative itch I had been having. I saw the Lakeshore Theater's posting on Craigslist that said they were accepting applications for a few positions that sounded cool and also creative, things like Audio/Visual intern, internet sketch creative team, production assitants, marketing people, bartenders during their shows, etc. Seemed like a cool, independent, creative environment.

I submitted a cover-letter and resume via email I think, and then was invited to come to a cattle call kind of somethingorother. I came down for what I thought would be an interview but it was like a group "interview" thing that was an advertisement for Lakeshore Theater (we had to wait in the "audience" for 15 minutes in darkness but were treated to a video montage of how awesome the Lakeshore Theater was) followed by a guy telling us that with there being such high demand for all their cool-ass positions that there are a TON of applicants. The problem, he said, is that it isn't fair to everyone because if they interview 30 people for a position and hire one based on their interviews, they still can't be sure that their new hiree is really battle tested, ya know? So really, the fair thing to do, according to our speaker/interviewer, would be to let everyone work a shift or two, see how it goes, see how you click with the co-workers, and how well you know your stuff, and we'll get back to you.

I thought that sounded a little hokey, but I saw some truth in there as well, and I appreciated that. Then, while stressing the deluge of applicants they had for each position, the dude proceeded to say that another thing an aspiring Lakeshore Theater employee could do to get in the theater's good graces would be to come in this Saturday to do some PR work (which he hinted could entail some telemarketing for tomorrow's show).

So after that part, the speaker concluded it with something to the effect of, "Ok, so that's where we're at. Go home, think it over, email me, let me know what you think. If you are able to come in and volunteer to help with PR tomorrow AWESOME!! Please talk to me or so and so afterward about that. Otherwise, go home, think about it, email, let me know if you're interested or not, if you are, I'll give you a time and trial shift to work."

Fair enough.

I emailed the guy and told him I was still interested for the positions which I applied. Since I didn't wish to pigeonhole myself, I went with the buckshot approach; I applied for a few different positions.- stuff like working on sketch comedy for the theater, doing internet comedy writing and/or acting for their website, bartending even, if that's what it took to get my foot in the door, that's cool. Bartending during a comedy show would be cool. Why not?

I hear back from the guy, we'll call him Dave. Dave was the speaker at the mass interview, and Dave was the guy I'm emailing now and talking about. Dave emails me back says, great, we'll be in contact with you to come in volunteer a shift, see how we work together and take it from there!

Volunteer a shift? Oh. Well, ok. Oh, also, the only thing that was available at the time was bartending. Oh. Well, that sucks, but ok whatever. So I guess I could work a 4 hour trial shift- I was told that tips would be part of it. I figured I'd do it, maybe it could turn out to be interesting or I'd impress the right people and get a really cool job. Who knows, maybe while I was there I could network with some of the creative people who work there and they'd be so impressed by my sense of humor and work ethic that they'd hire me on the spot?

I had a shift. Saturday night. Be there at 4 to help set up. Show is at 8. We should be out of there by midnight. I'd help set up the stage and bars, then help as a bartender or usher or something.

I get there. I get a Lakeshore Theater t-shirt. I waited, checked in, waited, then was told to go hand out tickets to passers by. Not exactly sketch comedy writing or bartending. I explained that to my superior and told them I wasn't going to hand out tickets to people on the street. He said it wasn't a big deal. "Here, watch. This is all it is, here watch this- 'hey sir, howyadoin, wanna come to a comedy show here tonight at 8. Free tick......'" The guy walked by and did not acknowledge his existence. Then he hands some spineless weasel two tickets, and turns to me and says, "I mean, that's IT. It's easy, trust me. Here' just pass these out." and handed me about 40 tickets.

He handed them into my stomach and not my hands. I told him again that I never agreed to do this. On my application I said I was interested in comedy writing, and bartending and I was here to bartend or set up the stage. I never agreed to harass innocent passers by to promote a show I couldn't personally verify was worthwhile or not. He said fair enough and took me inside and handed me off to someone else.

I got to helping with some task that required 4 people and had 7 working on it. I just had a seat and let these other people do it. They'd been together at that task for the few minutes I was out waiting then passing out tickets, so they had gotten to know eachother a bit. Also keep in mind that we were all basically auditioning for a job. It was like a reality/game show where we were all trying to impress the employees, outshine the other applicants, out-laugh the other applicants when an employee makes a joke, etc.

I didn't care and still sat around. It really was like Survivor. Admittedly, I wasn't out-working my other applicants, but the dumbasses working their asses off were talking ghetto and being unprofessionally flirty, etc. I figured they could stock the bar (which apparently was the task requiring 4 people) while annoying our supervisors with their moronic banter. Eventually when the supervisors heard me talking they'd realize I was cooler, therefore better to hire, than those other savages.

I was told I'd be a bar back all night. Not what I wanted. Not what I was told I'd be doing. But ok. I could show the supervisors that I could take shitty news like a sport, and deal with it. Whatever.

More busywork with too many people doing the small things that make a theater run. Time passed. Break in the clouds- a Lakeshore employee called and canceled coming in. They needed someone with bartending experience to man a little booth on the side of the stage. It was a tiny bartending station/booth like you see at some clubs. The bartender will have a cooler with like 3 kinds of beer in cans, then like vodka, whiskey, rum, OJ, and fountain drinks. And Red Bull. So I said I'd do it. I lied about having bartending experience. After a lot of work, lots of sitting around, several changes in plans for the employees, and a lot of luck, I finally got the job that I was lead to believe I had before I showed up.

I found out during the set up that my booth would be adjacent to the stage. I also learned that the show for tonight was twofold, first there was a rookie comedy night where they had about 5 first timers come on and do 5 minutes of standup and after that some kind of burlesque troupe kind of thing would take the next two hours. Sounded good enough to me.

So I see where my bar will be set up and it's right next to the stage. If the stage is like this


my booth thingy would be the X. which is right in the mix. So the people rehearse and do their crap a bit and eventually the show starts.

The comedy starts up and I was told to take a seat during the show. I guess they didn't want a spotlight on me next to the stage and maybe have a line during the performance or something, or anything to detract from the talent on stage. I thought this was a good policy. I would just tend bar between acts.

the comedy was funny. I was genuinely impressed and hoped I'd get the job. It was a really cool vibe with some fun, original, first-timers out there just not giving a shit and doing a great job. Probably living out a dream. Cool vibe.

Comedy hour ends and I man the station to prepare for the burlesque variety show thingy. Business is busy, and that's that. Then as the show's about to start my supervisor comes out and says, "You know what man? We're just gonna keep you out here during the show if that's cool. So just stand here during the show, whether people are in line or not, so that they know they can get a drink at any time during the show." Cool, I tell him.

So I stay there and as the show begins no one approaches the bar so I turn my head to watch the talent.

Then something very, very weird happens to me. This was a feeling of odd I had never had before then or since.

Nothing odd really happened, but I had an odd feeling come over me, I guess. So the lights go off to start the show. Upon the first burlesque woman (who seems pretty and, dressed as though she will be "getting burlesquey" for lack of an actual phrase) is cast a spotlight. I understand why they'd put a spotlight on her. One other spotlight was cast at the Lakeshore Theater during that act. It was upon me. It let people know that they could still order drinks during the show.

So, some woman is getting naked on stage next to me. I can't see the audience well because I have a spotlight in my eyes. So then I realize people can see me just as easily as they can see her. What should I do? If I just stare blankly into the crowd as though I were looking for customers, I may seem to be upstaging the talent, or at least, guilty of willfully looking away from it. Thinking that would be in poor taste to the on-stage-possibly-naked talent, and more importantly, to my supervisors who could now watch every second of my shift without me knowing when.

So I did the only reasonable thing, I turned my head and watched her strip. I had no idea how many people were watching ME watch her strip.

Plus, for all I know there could be 35 people that I haven't seen since high school in the audience coming to a burlesque show in Chicago only to see me, their long lost high school friend, tending bar at said burlesque show. They could be pointing and laughing at me and I wouldn't even know!!!!

So it's weird. I calm down and watch the striptease. So far so good. She's cute enough, and I think I'd have to be foolish to think people would just be watching me instead of the cute girl getting bu' nekkit on stage. So she's stripping down to a thong and bra number, and it's cool. Then she does something else and ends up on the ground where she is doing a floor burlesque apparently. Ostensibly the point is, lay down with your head pointing toward the crowd so they can see some boobage then swing your legs around to get them noting boob and leg. Sounds foolproof.

So she was doing that and it was cool, but the view was funny for me because the show is of course designed to be viewed from the audience and not my booze booth. Then she spun and did a 180 degree turn so that the audience could see her lying down in profile and I could see the bottoms of her high heels. Then she lifted one of her legs up, followed by the other.....

I saw butthole.

you read it right. That chick had a thong on. She faced me, then, well you know the rest. That's basically all I remember about that night. Here's what's funny though. So I told the bartender chick that came to my booth for her orders what happened, she laughed her ass off and seemed genuinely cool as hell.

So the show ends and we're cleaning up and people are asking how it went. I said that it was fine and was actually a lot of fun (partially true, but I was trying to impress people here) and all that, but I saw butthole and that was certainly a unique professional experience for me. People laughed and that story seemed to afford me a certain credibility among the staff and applicants alike. A butthole cred, I guess. In total I told about 4 people that, but the 4th person I told said, "oh man that was you?? I heard some new guy saw butthole but I didn't know who! That's hilarious dude!"

I was also told that since I bartended I would get a cut of the tips, so it wasn't totally a volunteer shift. My share was like $60. I thought that would numb the pain of seeing butthole and realizing that this whole job trial system is a scam.

One problem though. But I couldn't get the $60 because Pat has to enter it all into the books and Pat already went home. I'd have to come by and get it on Tuesday. I hadn't heard of a Pat the entire time I was there and wondered if "Pat" actually existed.

Tuesday: I show up. Explain the deal and someone goes to find my money. No one can find it. I should come Thursday.

Thursday: It took literally 15 minutes, but someone found it. $60 in cash in an envelope with my name on it.

I emailed Dave after that. I didn't hear back and was kinda bummed. Not bummed so much because I didn't get a job there, because their HR seemed dilapidated at best and opportunities much more scarce than they lead on, but because that just proved they were a sham. Had Dave emailed me back and said something to the effect of, "thanks for coming it, but we decided to hire someone else from that shift instead of you. You may still be in the running for a creative talent position though, and someone will get back to you about that" I would be ok. But he just blew me off the same way a guy blows a girl off after a one-night stand, with the whole, I will just let my silence explain that I'm an a-hole instead of just admitting verbally that I am.

About 4 months later I was still on Craigslist looking for something creative and I saw the same exact advert again for the Lakeshore Theater.

They didn't have any cool positions open. They didn't have an internet writing team, or marketing or PR or sketch comedy outfit that is in the works. They say all that to get applications, then they bait and switch you. "All we have is bartending. Came you come in Saturday for free? OR you can work the phones on Friday night or Saturday morning, also for free?" So you do a shift, just to see how you fit in mind you. Make sure that YOU like us, most importantly, and we'll get back to you. Only they don't. With 40 applicants at a cattle call thingy, and 10 shifts a weekend, they need to put out one ad a month to get 10 free shifts a weekend. Those are slave wages. Why not keep doing it?

That's what they did. Now they are out of business. They are in debt to me one butthole viewing against my will. Oh, and the whole lying about having an actual creative job like they advertised. You know what, those owners see a butthole in the mirror everyday. I guess the hatchet is buried.

But I am still glad they are out of business. Bating and switching to get free shifts, then never calling people again. Then repeating the process every several weeks? RARELY is that done by a solvent business. The news of their demise doesn't come as a surprise after the shitshow I saw. And it's just gauche and awful karma. Plus, I mean, I saw butthole.

That's how I roll.

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