Maurice Doggan and Shey Lyn Zanotti, Rego Park roommates, are two wide-eyed New Yorkers, aspiring to successful acting careers while, at least temporarily, paying the rent selling candy, drinks and T-shirts at a Broadway theater. "I could earn a living a lot of different ways," said Doggan, 31. "But none of them would let me spend six days a week in the theater." The two aspiring actors met while working at the concession stand during the run of "Les Miserable," and decided to share an apartment. Doggan attended the Performing Arts High School in Manhattan and worked in the Harlem Theatre Project. Zanotti, 27, who comes from Michigan, is working as both an actor and director in several original productions.Concession stand workers work the same eight-show, six-day-a week schedule as the actors and crew in the production. Zanotti said that she can tell New Yorkers from tourists visiting the theater by their generosity, or lack of it. "Tourists tend not to tip at all," she said. "New Yorkers tip at least a dollar." Careful observersObserving some of the world's best stage actors practicing their craft up to eight times a week is the best training a young actor can get, Doggan and Zanotti agreed. Doggan saw "The Boy from Oz" 40 times before it closed late last year. "You keep getting inspired every day seeing those people on stage," he said.Zanotti watched "Phantom of the Opera" nearly 100 "times, standing at the back of the theater during lulls at the concession stand. "I like to learn," she said, but admitted that it is "hard to see the play the first time." "When actors sees a play for the first time they are hypercritical of it, we have too much knowledge of what they are doing," she said. "The more you watch it, the less critical you are." Although they agree that seeing free theater is a terrific perk for an aspiring actor working as a concessionaire, Doggan and Zanotti differ on whether the job should be used to make contacts in the business."There is nothing wrong with that," said Doggan, noting that actor Ray Liotta once worked in a concessions booth. "They don't mind if you approach them. They are in the same profession we are."Zanotti is a bit less star struck. "Nobody who works at theaters would ever harass someone performing," she said. "I am not that impressed. They are just working like everybody else." Still, both young actors recall selling refreshments to stars. "I remember Debbie Allen coming up to me when she was doing 'Raisin in the Sun,'" said Zanotti, who said that the star is a great tipper. "I actually didn't want to charge her. I looked at her and said 'I can't take money from you. But I did.'"Taste of cultureThere are between 90 and 95 people who work in the concessions stands in 19 Broadway theaters, according to Julian Rubin, general manager of Theater Refreshment Company of New York, the company that has specialized in concessions for the theater industry since 1976. Another 20 employees staff the four theater gift shops the refreshment company runs in Manhattan. It also runs shops in Philadelphia and Washington. Rubin said that most of his theater operation is bar sales. But contrary to popular belief, champagne is not the big-ticket item in the theater, vodka is, selling twice as much as any other spirit. Water is the most popular non-alcoholic drink among theater goers, by nearly 2 to 1, having surpassed soda in sales more than a decade ago. Hungry theater fans also prefer good old fashion Hershey's and Nestle's Crunch bars to the fancy chocolate bars that are now available in theaters, said Rubin.Zanotti said that people order strange combinations of things, "like red wine and Dots." A substantial portion of Broadway souvenirs are now sold on the Internet, said Rubin. "Anyone in Iowa can buy a 'Mama Mia' T-shirt, they don't have to go to New York to see the show," he said. No matter what becomes of their acting careers, both Doggan and Zanotti said they have grown as actors from observing the varied faces and personalities of their customers."For an actor this is the perfect job," said Doggan. "This is a lot better than being locked up in an office," said Zanotti. "It's not as good as acting, but there is a certain romance to this compared to other jobs."
Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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