During the last few weeks, the Mondavi Center has made a transition to a new software package in the ticket office. And regular patrons may notice a few changes — some of which are rather handy.
“The biggest change that people will notice is that they now have the ability to select seats themselves when they are buying tickets online,” said Sarah Herrera, the Mondavi Center’s ticket office manager. “When you’re online, you can look at what we have available, and pick the seats yourself. You can also see what’s no longer available.”
Herrera added that for patrons who want to buy a subscription series online — especially a “choose your own” series (incorporating selected performances from more than one series) — “it’s like night and day, compared to before. In the old system, you had to enter encrypted words every time you put something in your cart. Now you can select all five events on a ‘choose your own’ series on one page, with a lot fewer clicks.”
Another thing that’s new, Herrera added, is that ticket buyers can now communicate custom order notes online, like “need an aisle seat for patron who uses a walker.”
“Another thing is that you can now print your online ticket purchases at home,” Herrera added. It’s not exactly new technology: Some movie theaters and theme parks have used systems that let ticket buyers purchase tickets online and print them at home for several years. And many airlines use systems that let passengers pick out their seat assignment and print their boarding passes at home.)
“With your ticket that you printed at home, you can go straight into the hall,” Herrera said. No more side trip to the Will Call window. But the box office will still be there for the traditional “walk up” sales.
As patrons enter the hall, their tickets are now being scanned by ushers. The hand-held scanners rely on the same kind of bar code reading technology has been standard at grocery stores and libraries for years.
The scanners have several upsides in terms of managing an evening’s performance. “We’ve always known how many tickets we’ve sold,” said Herrera, “but now we have the ability to determine our attendance at a given moment in time. If you know how many tickets are sold, and you can see that 50 people haven’t scanned in, you know that you may be in for a last minute rush,” said Herrera. But if virtually all of the people who have purchased tickets have scanned in, then the performance can get underway promptly. Herrera said that the scanning system will also allow the box office to identify people who bought tickets but didn’t attend the concert “and reach out.”
The scanners also help ushers identify potential problems. “Sometimes a patron will bring tickets for the wrong night,” said Emily Taggert, audience services manager at Mondavi. “And sometimes we’ve had issues with duplicate tickets — someone has cancelled their tickets, and then forgets and gives the cancelled tickets to a friend, but the seats have been sold to someone else. With the scanners, these situations are taken care of at the front door.”
Patrons will notice a change at intermission. If you decide to go outside — to fetch something from your car, or enjoy the evening air, or smoke a cigarette — you’ll need to take your ticket with you, since ushers are now scanning patrons out-and-in during the mid-performance break.
Emily Taggert said there are eight scanners for ushers working a performance in Jackson Hall, and another four scanners for the Vanderhoef Studio Theater, plus two more for house managers.
Taggert said that a brief training session covering how to use the scanners was held in June for the roughly 300 volunteer ushers at the Mondavi Center. The scanners were used for June’s performance by Jazz at Lincoln Center, and July’s performance by Pink Martini.
Longtime usher Ellen Pontac began volunteering in the days before the Mondavi Center opened, back when performances were held at Freeborn Hall and the program was called UC Davis Presents. “When I first held one of the scanners, I felt like it was some kind of ray gun,” Pontac said with a smile. “My hands are a little small, and it was a little hard to hear the beep that the scanner makes when the lobby is full of people. But as I get more accustomed to using the scanner, I’ll do better.”
Bob Gonzalez, a retired music teacher and a longtime volunteer usher, said he wouldn’t mind if the information on the scanner’s screen was displayed in slightly bigger letters that were easier to read. “But they do give you an accurate account of where people are sitting, and the patron’s name.” Spouse Pat Gonzalez, who is also a volunteer usher, said she was initially “a little anxious — what if the wrong screen came up on the scanner? But I didn’t have any of those issues.” But she added that she’s still figuring out the best way to hold the scanner while scanning in a group of four, five or six patrons who are sitting together. “I almost need a third hand,” she quipped.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.