Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Head of Security Oliver Sutton

By Annie Sears

Meet Oliver Sutton: US Navy veteran, published poet, competitive power-lifter, hat collector, father to three, and A.C.T.’s head of security at The Geary Theater. You can’t miss Oliver. For 20 years, he’s been at the front door, sporting a smile and sometimes a top hat. If you say hello, you’re sure to hear a story, complete with bubbling chuckles and impersonations of each character involved. We recently sat down with Oliver to enjoy some of those stories.

Oliver Sutton outside The Strand. Photo by Annie Sears.

When did you first start working security?
When I was 16, I worked security for a music club in Annapolis. I was running around and James Brown said, “Kid, what exactly is your job?” I said, “Well, Mr. Brown, the owner says I’m a gopher. He means that I go for this, and I go for that! [Laughs] Then James Brown said, “Stop right here, son. Go back and tell the owner that James Brown said you are no longer a gopher. From now on, tell him Mr. B says you’re a glorified gopher.” Now I’ve worked lots of places—max security at juvie hall, the Embarcadero Company, a methadone clinic, Punchline. I’ve worked lots of comedy clubs and met people like Robin Williams.

How did you start working at A.C.T.?
A.C.T. needed someone to work the door for their annual Christmas party, and since I worked in the area, I did it. I looked very official. I even had a pad of yellow paper, so it looked like I was checking a guest list. But there was nobody’s name on it. [Laughs] A week later, the theater manager said that he wanted to hire “that amazing guy on the door.” Now, the only people who call something amazing are new car dealers. But that stroked my ego, so I told him I’d give it a six-month shakedown cruise. That’s what we call it in the navy. Well, that shakedown cruise has lasted over 20 years.  

What’s kept you here for so long?
I like places with energy. The theater will not allow you to sit still, no matter what you do. And I’m always learning. I used to watch TV and hear about someone like Chekhov or August Wilson and think, “Who the hell is that?” But now I know, and I’ve even had lunch with August Wilson because of my connections at A.C.T

How do you describe your job?
I’m what they call “a steel fist, but in a velvet glove.” I’m bodyguard-certified, but I’m also kind. I meet people where they’re at. I set boundaries and let people know what is unacceptable, but I want every customer I come into contact with to be treated with dignity. And when people see that there’s a knowledgeable, professional person at the door, they’ll think, “Now, I wonder what it’s like on the inside?”

Meet Oliver at one of our upcoming shows, including Sweat, which starts previews on September 26. Click here to purchase tickets for the 2018–19 season.

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