Backstage with Quantum Theatre’s T.J. Parker-Young | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Backstage with Quantum Theatre’s T.J. Parker-Young

“We had to be aware that we touch on sensitive topics and that people might say, ‘OK, I need to step outside”

click to enlarge Backstage with Quantum Theatre’s T.J. Parker-Young
CP Photo: Jared Murphy
T.J. Parker-Young at the Homewood Library

Name: T.J. Parker-Young, Homestead
Work: Patron Services Associate, Quantum Theatre
Recent Projects: Inside Passage; Chatterton; The Gun Show

What do you do?
Take care of the patron’s experience at a show, everything from the moment that you drive on to the space to when you leave. 

Quantum produces in a new location each show, typically spaces not traditionally used for theater. How is this job different with this company?
Every site is a restart with its own challenges and complications; how to create the most comfortable patron experience within the limitations of the space. I look at the capabilities of the site, and every possible aspect has to be thought out every time we move a show.

So not just the answers change from show to show, but the questions?
Absolutely. With The Gun Show, we didn’t worry about power or bathrooms and barely about parking. It was easy and there was a lot I could take off my plate. For Chatterton, I had to worry about plates because one of the questions was, “How do we serve dinner to 120 people within 30 minutes?” The show moved through Trinity Cathedral — chapel, cathedral, banquet hall, choir hall, various rooms, with patrons in three different groups on three different paths that sometimes intersected. And a three-course dinner in the middle. Each of the seven weeks, there was a different chef, figuring out how their service goes and integrating our team. Timing was huge. 

You obviously have to be well familiarized with the physical aspect of the space. What about the show itself?
I have to intersect with the work because I have to answer questions about the work. The house manager and I are the faces there for every show, so we are the ones to field questions. I have to understand that there might be subject matter that’s sensitive to the patrons. The Gun Show discussed suicide, robbery, violence. We don’t know what experience someone enters the room with. We had to be aware that we touch on sensitive topics and that people might say, “OK, I need to step outside.” I posted myself to be there to intersect, have conversation with them, see what they need. 

And you led the post-show discussion as well?
I conducted a 15-minute conversation after each show, collecting patrons’ stories. The show put everyone in an emotional space to be open to talking about things. We wanted to kickstart that conversation. We’re preparing for a larger event with an open forum. 

Is there room for your perspective or do you need to keep yourself out?
At times, I shared my own stories to get the room primed or because we had time and I wanted to make myself as vulnerable as everyone else in the room. But my opinions are mine; I don’t want them to color anyone else’s experience. For the most part, I have to put me on the back burner.

What do you think is the most important part of your job?
Creating an environment for patrons to enjoy themselves, whatever that looks like. 

What’s your favorite part?
I think it’s great that I get to explore the city with this company. I’m experiencing things for the first time. I get to learn so much about places and systems that I wouldn’t otherwise; I’m entrenched in them. I’ve met amazing people, and after they’ve seen you twice, they treat you like their friend. Plus I’ve seen what theater in the city can look like. As an artist, for me, that’s super important. It’s helped me get a grasp on what the theater scene looks like. I wouldn’t get this in Texas. 

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