Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Usher Joe Mac

By Annie Sears
Joe Mac strikes his signature "Joe Mac Action Figure" poses in the Geary lobby. Photos by Annie Sears.
Joe Mac came to the Bay Area on a spur-of-the-moment road trip. It was 1978, and Joe had just completed undergrad in his home state of Pennsylvania when a friend called and said, “Pull $200 together. We’re going to Santa Cruz.” So Joe, who had never been west of the Mississippi River, spent two weeks sleeping in the back of a Volkswagen with his friend and a husky. When he first glimpsed the Pacific, Joe said, “I’m not going back. I’m starting my life here.” And he did.

For 40 years, Joe has been active in the Bay Area theater community. A member of the Actors’ Equity Association, Joe’s performed on several regional stages. He’s also house-managed at Beach Blanket Babylon and 42nd Street Moon. Most notably, he was the managing director and producing associate at Marines’ Memorial Theatre for 18 years. Now—in addition to decorating local bars and manning the Coca-Cola Fan Lot at AT&T Park—he’s an usher at the Curran, the Palace of Fine Arts, and here at A.C.T.

You’ve held all sorts of theater jobs. What’s special about ushering?
Everybody’s equal in the theater. Actors can’t do it without front of house, who can’t do it without box office, who can’t do it without production, and so on. Together, we make art to be proud of. And the audience is the final cast member. What are we doing it for, if not for them? As an usher, I get to sit in the back of the theater and watch different audiences. The performance stays the same, but the audience’s energy changes each night. I love it.

Any particularly memorable interactions with audience members?
You know when you’re thinking something, and you’re not sure whether you said it aloud? Well, there was one patron I was bending over backwards trying to help. In my mind, I’m thinking, “Lady, just get your ass in a seat.” And for one panicked millisecond, I thought, “Oh, did I really say that?” So I had to think quick, and I said, “Did you smell gas in the street?” [Laughs] She just said, “No.” What a relief!

Working for the Giants seems like an outlier on your resume.
That’s what the ballpark said when I interviewed there. [Laughs] But I think sports and theater are very similar. You have a director and a coach. You have a team and a cast. You have uniforms and costumes. You have stars, and you have backup people. When somebody hits a home run in the bottom of the 9th and your team wins, or when somebody like John Douglas Thompson delivers a soliloquy as Hamlet, the audience is all one. You walk out, and your differences have melted away. You’re hugging and high-fiving and saying, “Wasn’t that great?” That’s what I love about the arts. We don’t build walls here. We knock them down.

Joe Mac will be ushering for some performances of Sweat, which opens at The Geary on September 26. Get your tickets today!

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