a porter takes center stage

| 12 Oct 2016 | 04:48

Caroline Rodriguez spends a lot of time in the darkened theaters of Broadway.

As a porter for city theaters, she’s behind-the-scenes, amidst activities that bring plays and musical productions to the stage. She’s center stage for the set building, the light design, the rehearsals, the opening nights, the applause and the curtain calls.

In her job, she’s the first to arrive, opening the theater and turning the lights on. At the end of the night, she’s the last to leave, turning out the lights and locking the theater doors. In between, as a porter, she’s “basically cleaning,” she says.

But there are two parts of the job. In the evening, things change.

“I say I’m a porter, but at nighttime I’m more like a doorman,” she says. “I wear a suit and tie, and I’m bringing the people in, greeting them.”

She’s the head porter at The Belasco. Until there’s a show again there, she is subbing at other Shubert company theaters. Right now she’s the second porter at The Broadhurst.

For theater porters, the hours are broken up from 8 a.m. to noon and then they come back again for a show at 6:30 p.m. For a the current show, “The Front Page” with Nathan Lane and an all-star cast in a three-hour production with two intermissions, Rodriguez will get home at 12:30 a.m.

She lives in Astoria so it’s fortunately not a long commute. She has the afternoons to do other things.

“It’s a little rough with the longer shows,” she says. “But the last show was 90 minutes, and we still get paid for four hours.”

Rodriguez says she used to be shy in school. Teachers would say she needed to participate more in class. But in her 11th year working for The Shubert Organization, that shyness seems to have dropped away.

Does it have to do with being around theater people? “It does,” she says. “You’ll see when we’re outside, we have to be aggressive sometimes, and loud and vocal with patrons.”

Even of her own time – since she’s a big fan of musical theater – she attends shows, bringing her boyfriend or friends. She’s seen “Phantom of the Opera” more than a hundred times, an early on-the-job perk since it was playing at her home theater when she started. She’s taken her daughter twice too.

The passion for theater runs in the family. Rodriguez’ mother was an usher in the theater, in the 1960s, she says.

“She always took me to the theatre as a kid. She always told me all these stories about how glamorous it was,” she says.

Her mother accumulated a stack of playbills signed by major celebrities, like Barbra Streisand, Desi Arnaz and Jackie Onassis.

Rodriguez and her fellow employees are invited to parties where she’s met “just about every celebrity.” So Rodriguez’s own growing collection of autographs includes Tom Hanks and Neil Patrick Harris. Her personal favorite productions, she says are “Passing Strange” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” She liked the latter because Hedwig was “different and funny, and every night you never knew what you were going to get.”