For Mim Pollock, Broadway is "like a family business." Her mom and dad met in the 1930's working at the Winter Garden, and Mim herself has been in the theatre for more than 40 years. If you saw the original production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, way back in 1964, or the recent Tony winners Contact or Henry IV, you might have run into Mim.
Mim is an usher—and for the last 17 years she’s been the chief usher at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Before that, her mother was the chief usher. But Mim is not only an usher. She’s also a recently graduated lawyer, with a degree from the City University of New York’s School of Law.
"I started ushering because my mom was doing it," Mim says. "My mother, my father, my aunt were in the business—my aunt was the chief usher at the Lunt Fontanne for many years. My cousin is chief usher at the Marquis. At one time an aunt was chief usher at the old Morosco. My uncle was a ticket taker at the Morosco and the Mark Hellinger. I also have a cousin who is a ticket taker at the Lunt Fontanne."
Her mom, M. LoVette Pollock, grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, just west of the theatre district, "and she and some of her other siblings gravitated to the theatre," Mim says. "My father, Manny, came from the Lower East Side, and he was a candy boy. That’s how they met—he was a candy boy at the Winter Garden and she was an usher. She got fired because they weren’t allowed to fraternize." Mim’s first job as an usher was in 1963 at the Little Theatre, now the Helen Hayes, on West 43rd Street. Her first two shows were the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Double Dublin, an Irish revue. The revue "did not fare well," she recalls—it lasted less than a week.
Before long, Mim headed down to Greenwich Village, where the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center had set up shop at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre while it waited for the Beaumont to be completed. After the Fall, directed by Elia Kazan, was its first production. "I wasn’t there from the first day," she says, "but I started working while it was still there."
When the Beaumont opened its doors in October 1965, with Danton’s Death and a cast that included James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach and Roscoe Lee Browne, Mim was there—and she’s been there ever since. When her mom retired 17 years ago, Mim became the chief usher. She also supervises ushers at Lincoln Center’s Off-Broadway theatre, the Mitzi E. Newhouse.
An usher’s job begins an hour before curtain time, but what happens next depends on the show. "We joke that a good show is a short one without an intermission and a bad show is a long one with many intermissions—none of which has anything to do with the script," she says. "Half the crew gets to leave 20 minutes after the curtain goes up, and the rest leave after the house is cleared." The size of the crew depends on the size and the logistics of the theatre. "At the Beaumont, the front of the house has 18 ushers, two directresses, two ticket takers and a chief."
It may be a business for Mim, but it is also a love. "I adore the theatre," she says. "When I was two and a half, I was on the stairs of the 46th Street Theatre—my parents owned the concession there—and I saw Guys and Dolls. And I was hooked. And I sat there for two-and-a-half years."
Mim, who grew up in Middle Village, Queens, has also worked in advertising, and in 2000, when she was in her early fifties, "I got a J.D. degree and was admitted to the bar." She had been president of the ushers’ union, then Local B183 and now Local 306 of IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the labor union representing technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, "and I decided that studying law would be beneficial to both negotiation and grievance procedure."
She lives on Long Island with her husband, Jerry Sodano, a New York City police officer who used to also work as a ticket taker at the Beaumont. "Since Sept. 11, the demands of his police job have increased so tremendously that he doesn’t have the time for the Beaumont," she says.
She counts among her favorite shows Anything Goes, John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig, Contact and last season’s acclaimed revival of Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
Of the celebrities she has helped to their seats, she lists among her favorites Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Richard Gere and Jack Nicholson.
"I find that most celebrities are very warm and easy to deal with," she says. "They’re there for a good time, too. Tom Cruise and Richard Gere couldn’t have been more charming. Taylor and Burton had a lot of security, so you couldn’t get close. Jack Nicholson is just like the actor you perceive in his films. He’s Mr. Personality. I had a chance to speak to him, so I introduced myself. And he smiled and said, ‘Hello, chiefy, how are ya?’"