Hiya, Will Cox!: Touring Merchandise Manager on Hello, Dolly!
Will Cox! He has one of those great names that I feel inclined to say his full first and last names whenever possible. He is Texas born and bred, spent 7 years in LA, half a year in NYC, and now feels at home on the road.
Will called me one day a couple years ago and said he received an offer to go on tour with 'The Sound of Music', and needed to talk out his thoughts with me. Here's the thing, guys...this was not the first phone call like this I'd received from someone. I'd estimate that 95% of these calls come from people who've already made up their minds to go, and just need me to confirm their gut feeling is a good one. Spoiler: I ALWAYS support them and then help them get started.
He has learned so much from his first round of touring on The Sound of Music, and I wanted to interview him to see how he's adjusting to his second round on a larger tour, Hello, Dolly!, as the Merchandise Manager.
I first met Will in LA while I was working the Newsies tour (and live feature film) at the Pantages theater. He was then the Assistant House Manager, which is no small feat in that epic theater! We found each other in the lobby because we share a mutual friend in Equity Stage Manager, Shay Garber - Hey, Shuhy! When Will moved to NYC, I hired him as a Merchandise Sales Associate at Disney's The Lion King on Broadway. He was, naturally, a wonderful addition to the team but after a while was ready for a new adventure. Enter: Tour.
From 1-Nighters to 1-2 Week Sit Downs
On a Bus and Truck tour with a heart of gold, "The Sound Of Music" was a pure first tour experience for Will. He was graced with one nighters where you barely have time to unzip your suitcase, let alone have time for laundry...or breathe. On 'Dolly', he will finally have more free time to enjoy tour perks! Like laundry (sometimes) and breathing (a little more!). After just a few weeks on tour, he was able to edit out quite a few items. One nighters have a way of showing you what you need.
"Working a bus-and-truck tour taught me so, so much. I had to be ready for anything. We played in theaters on college campuses, inside city halls, on high school campuses, in stadiums. Small lobbies, huge lobbies. So by now, I feel like I can make anything work, no matter what kind of venue it is."
Longer sit downs allow for time to slow down mentally and physically, relax a bit, and settle in.
"At the beginning of my first tour, I was so focused on learning the job and scared of messing up, that everything else went to the back burner. But later in the tour and definitely this year, I'm trying to shift my priorities to have fun and be comfortable while on the road." YES. YES. YES.
Will says one of his favorite parts of touring is the travel. He loved seeing parts of the country he would've never thought to go otherwise. Places like Kansas City, Santa Barbara, Key West, and Charleston, to name a few. However, sometimes getting to know people on tour is easier said than done when you are exhausted from travel and work.
"My tour schedule really kind of dictates what my options are. On the one hand, I try really hard to get out and see things that aren't the theater or hotel and really see the sights in each city. But I also really value my pajamas & Netflix time, too. In the past, I've had a lot of movie nights with friends all crammed into my hotel room, or we've planned outings to museums, bars, other shows that are in town, etc."
Will also mentioned something very insightful, which is the battle of work/life balance after with those who aren't on the tour with you.
"I almost completely re-start my social life every year, which can be tough. And being far from so many good friends and family is hard, as well. But the pro's definitely outweigh the con's."
Things That Stay The Same
Just because he's switching to longer sit downs, it doesn't mean he can become a new person altogether.
"I told myself this year I'd work out a lot more since I'll have free time. And so far, not even once. And having a social life mostly means eating and drinking. So it's hard. And mentally, I try to leave work to only when I'm physically in the theater (easier said than done). A nice meal at a bougie restaurant helps if I'm feeling out of sorts. "
He learned a lesson on his first tour which still rings true on the new tour... "There are certain things that have to be done a certain way, and there's a lot of things that are completely up to me to decided. I was told that when I started, but it didn't really sink in for me until later. I have a great support system back in NYC, but out on the road, it's just me running the merch booth."
And then there's dating on tour. Oye. "Oooof -- nearly impossible, for me at least. I guess like anything, if it's meant to be it'll work out. But touring definitely makes it a more difficult arena to maneuver in. But I've seen lots of people lucky enough to be on the same tour as their significant other, so it is possible. Maybe this time next year, I'll be singing a different tune." ***Note: To read about a couple who tour together, check out the blog about Karin Craven. She and her Fiancé travel on The Phantom of the Opera tour, after meeting on a sit down in Schenectady!
Wills Favorite Good Vibe from Tour
"When people in the lobby ask if I travel with the show, and I say yes. Explaining a bit about how it works to people seeing the show always reminds me how lucky I am to get to do this for my job. Also, I've had a few people cry to me in the lobby explaining how much these shows mean to them, so even though I'm not directly involved in the show itself, it's really cool to be a part of it in some way." I want to make sure Will gets credit where credit is due. I would actually say that he (and all Merch staff) is VERY involved with the show itself. They operate on the same tour schedule as everyone else, they are part of the experience of the patron attending the show, and are usually the last people leaving at the end of the night. #merchlife
ORGANIZATION ON TOUR
Will really honed in on his organizational skills as a survival tactic for the ever changing tour schedule. "The travel schedule might be insane and we might be in a different lobby every other day, but at least when I unlocked my booth, I was ready to go. I've tried so hard to keep everything exactly where it needs to be to make my job easier."
He has also done a great job only packing what he actually needs! He has a reasonable amount of shoes, and has been able to figure out how to pack all four seasons in his 2 suitcases. It helps that he also enjoys packing, as it's exciting for him to go to the next city.
"I currently only have 5 pairs of shoes with me, so any more than that would be overkill. I just go for one for each occasion. Everyday converse, dress shoes, workout shoes, boots for the cold, and flip-flops for the pool."
His favorite organizational tool is an Excel document. What a NERD!
"I make a master spreadsheet for myself for each tour, so I can have all my info in one place. Travel schedule, housing, venue, venue contact info, dates, flights -- everything. I'd really rather not search through all my emails every other day."
Not So Much Nailing It
"Not having a 'junk drawer' in my work bins, and asking stupid questions."
He says he's worried about asking stupid questions. I want to be clear that in my opinion, it's better to ask than assume. There are stupid questions in the world, but not if you sincerely need an answer to succeed on tour.
Will is a fucking delight! You can see him in the lobby at any of 'Hello, Dolly', starring Carolee Carmello, tour stops (find them here). If you see him, ask to see his master excel sheet because he's pretty proud of it - as he should be! #nerdsunite