If you have ever been running late to a show at the Academy of Music, you have probably heard the sound of a man walking calmly in the ambulatory yelling “Show starting! Doors closing!” He may have quickly looked at your ticket and directed you to the correct door, or politely shown you the lobby screen where you could see the start of the show. He walks around like he owns the place…which honestly he kind of does as the Venue Manager.
Frank Flood dedicated much of his life to the Academy of Music. From starting to work there as a teenager, meeting his wife (a fellow usher), having his children join him as ushers, and then being given the keys to run the place as Venue Manager -- Frank’s dedication to the “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street” is unmatched.
We had the pleasure to sit down with Frank to hear some of his stories and learn more about his celebrated career at the Academy of Music, as well as take a stroll around the building while he worked his last Broadway performance.
*interview condensed for length and clarity*
When did you start working at the Academy?
I started working at the Academy in 1972. I was a senior in high school and my best friend came and asked me if I would work with him at the Academy of Music. His dad was the traffic cop at Broad & Locust and allowed the head usher (from time to time) to park on Broad Street and not give him a ticket.
So, my buddy worked there for a few weeks and then he got a hold of me because he was working with mostly older white men, and he wanted someone else to talk to! At that time in the 70’s all the ushers were older white men. There were no ladies. They hadn’t broken the glass ceiling yet. No people of color, to my knowledge. And he said, “I just need to talk to someone, and I’m going crazy!”
So I got the approval from my parents, and I started in 1972 after handing in this skimpy little resume to the head usher at the time, Marc Scuncio. I started working up in the Amphitheater, but after a while I convinced Mr. Scuncio to move me down to the Parquet because I wanted to be where the action was. I worked Door 5 for many, many years.
Frank during his last Broadway show, posing outside Door 5.
When I first started, I usually sat on the bench and did my school work, and right above me in the main lobby was the speaker for the stage. One night I started hearing this guy’s voice, and I was absolutely blown away. I didn’t know who he was, I did not know what he was saying (because it was in Italian), but I knew I had to find out. His voice was so beautiful.
I went over to the head usher’s office, and I said, “Marc, , I wanna ask a favor. Can I go inside door ten – I’ll sneak in discretely. I’ll stay against the wall. I’ll sit on the steps, I just wanna see this man sing!” To that point in my working there, I had kept telling him how I didn’t really like opera, or classical, or ballet, or any of it. I liked rhythm and blues and that was about it. And he said, “But Frank, you don’t like classical music. In fact, you hate opera. Why would you want to go in and sit and watch and listen to this man?” I said, “Marc, I really like this man’s voice. I don’t know what he’s saying, but I have to see him, I have to see him to make sure he’s really singing these notes.” He started to smile and I knew he thought to himself, “oh, okay we got another one. We hooked another one,” you know. He said, “Alright. Don’t disturb anybody. Just go in and stay close to the wall.”
I sat in there and I fell in love. I just closed my eyes. I listened to this man perform, and I was so close to the stage -- it just blew me away. I had to know more about this guy. I had to know who he was and then I found out it was one of the most famous tenors in the world: Luciano Pavarotti.
And it was that performance that really stirred my interest because…I didn’t hate it. I found out I was ignorant about that kind of art because I wasn’t exposed to it, and now I found a place where I could see classical music, and watch some of the conductors and be inspired by them and the passion that they had. I felt like I started to see all art differently after that. I see that show, that performance, as my real introduction to the Academy of Music, and from that moment on I was in love.
And then years later, I got to meet Pavarotti in the Ballroom after one of his performances. My wife put me up to it. He was having some sort of party with guests and I brought in the album cover of Pagliacci with him on the cover. Marc Scunzio (who spoke Italian) introduced us to Pavarotti – and we didn’t know what he was saying -- and you Pam handed the album to him to to autograph it. Now he didn’t care about me, because he was entranced by my wife! He was looking at her because she was so beautiful and asked her name, and she says Pamela, and he goes *with Italian inflection* “PamEHla!” He signed the album with a big “beautiful” in Italian with his name. Aw man, Pam’s eyes were probably stars. She was an excellent piano teacher and a theatre major, and she was the one that really opened up my eyes to theatre the types of voices in the world.
Frank's signed Pavarotti album
What was it like working here in the 70’s compared to what it feels like now?
Well, I’ll give you one example. Back then, we had ramps at the two main Parquet doors, doors five and six, that ran from the top of door all the way down towards the pit. Back then we only had two ushers: one usher at the top at the doors and the other usher down below just past the boxes (that was me). You would work your tail off, which was good because it kept you busy. Today we often have 4 ushers working each of the main doors.
So one of the unique things when I was younger and fresh out of high school, we’d have little contests between shows to break up the monotony between the 2PM show and the 8PM show. After we finished our meal (which was probably cheesesteaks or hoagies) that we ate at tables in the main lobby, we would have contests to see who could surf those ramps! And by surf, I’m talking actually surf because we couldn’t wear sneakers, we’d have to wear nice shoes and they would slide along the carpet. We’d get our shoes all slippery, start from a good run in the main lobby, and take off through the doors, and slide down the ramps. You’d say, “I got to row O, or I got to row Q!” and we would have contests to see who could surf the furthest.
The steps were added later by a gift from Mrs. Annenberg. She and her husband were great benefactors of the Academy and came to many performances. She used to sit in box 2 and watched people have some difficulty coming down the ramps (especially in high heels or slippery shoes), so she gave money for the steps to be put in right by the boxes where they still are today. But, sadly, no more surfing.
I know you said you met your wife at the Academy, so can you tell us about that?
Yes, I did meet my wife Pam who was also an usher at the Academy in the later 70’s. Woman had finally been hired as ushers and my wife was maybe the seventh or eighth female usher ever. I was working the lower part of door five, and I looked over, and I saw this beautiful woman in door 6 that was also working down below. It was funny because for a while we would glance at each other and when one saw the other glancing we would look away. It was so cute this cat and mouse game. And I thought, she is so cute, I need to get to know her. We became friends over the couple of weeks after meeting each other, and we would sit on the bench doing work together. I loved having her company.
Frank and Pam on their wedding day
I was kind of a shy guy, and she came up to me one day and said, “Frank, I need a favor. This one person keeps coming up and asking me out. And he's really just not my type. I ran out of excuses so I finally had to say yes.” I said, “What do you want me to do?” because I didn’t really understand why she was telling me this, or what she was asking! And she said, “I want you to go with us… but I’m gonna ask other people, so there’s probably going to be six or seven of us like when we usually go out.” And I said, “Okay…” Then she said, “But here’s the deal: I want you to sit next to me.” And my brain is thinking -- Frank, you got this, don’t screw it up! I was next to her the whole night and I was elated inside but I was trying to remain calm and that was the start of our relationship. We just had a nice time then and then our whole lives. She was so sweet, so kind, and just vivacious. Her inner beauty is just the same as her outer beauty if not more, and I knew that even as a young guy.
Since we were the first two ushers to get engaged and get married, the Academy of Music Manager at the time Hugh Walsh gifted us the Academy Ballroom for our wedding reception. We didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and we were blown away! Before the wedding, I realized I totally forgot about getting a limousine so called up my buddy Cornell Wood, who was also an usher at the time and he had this beautiful car, and asked if he could drive Pam to the chapel. And he did not disappoint -- showed up with white gloves on, a beautiful suit, his car all cleaned. Aw, man, it was beautiful. We were married on December 13, 1980, over at Villanova Chapel and then came to the Academy for the reception.
A wedding photo taken in the north stairwell at the Academy
When we started having kids in 1985 we were still at the Academy, Pam worked up until her due date! It was kind of funny with her belly protruding, seating people in the aisle, you know, “Pardon me, pardon me, pardon me.” But once our son Patrick was born, she decided to stay at home, and in 1987 after we had our daughter, I made the choice to leave the Academy to have more time in the evenings and on weekends with them.
Now fast forward to 2003, and my son has started at Temple University and is looking for job and asked me about the Academy. Many who I had worked with were still there, so I called them up and they gave my son a chance, but now my wife wanted me to drop him off and pick him up so she knew he would get home to his Temple dorm safe and sound. So after a few weeks of this, I thought this is crazy, so I got my wife’s permission to return to ushering so I could work alongside my son AND be able to drive him. So that was in 2003 and I’ve been here ever since becoming the first House Manager and now Venue Manager. I like to say I have two tours of duty, you know.
Okay speed round! What is your first memory of the Academy?
I got to know the Academy back when I was a young kid living in West Philly with my family. The Box Office Manager for the Academy of Music lived on our street. Her name was Mrs. Haley. She and her daughter worked the box office for a long time. Every year when I was little, they would invite all the families that lived on the street to come to the Academy on New Year’s Day to watch the parade down on Broad Street. We would stand in the ballroom windows and they would serve hot chocolate and cookies. That was my first ever interaction with the Academy when I was a kid.
If you had to pick one of your most memorable experiences at the Academy, what would it be?
Probably seeing Yul Brynner who had a run of The King and I on the stage one summer.He had a house on the Main Line that he rented for him and his family, and he would come in every night dropped off by a black limo at the stage door. He’d be dressed in all black or all brown and walk into the stage door all bent over like an older man. But when he gave the performance that was The King and I. He was the king. I would catch glimpses on him on stage and seeing this actor emerge from the old individual who I saw creep into the Academy was unbelievable. The shows were sold out every night, and to this day I just never fully enjoy productions of The King and I because of course it’s not Yul Brenner. I can’t watch this because it wasn’t him!
Frank at his final Broadway show, a touring production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The final event in the budiling that Frank works is fittingly, a graduation.
Most unique performance you’ve ever seen there?
The Lipizzan Stallions! To my knowledge, we had had horses perform on stage before. I think they were here for a week, and rather than putting them in a horse trailer, they kept the horses in the South Alley (between the Academy and the Miller Theater) with some hay and stalls under cover. It was six horses, maybe seven, absolutely beautiful horses.
Favorite famous person you met, besides Pavarotti?
I will say Coretta Scott King. There was a benefit here once for Martin Luther King Jr., and she attended to give a speech. I asked permission to go onstage and meet her during the after-benefit mingling, and I felt very humbled meeting her. I went up to her and said, “Mrs. King, I’m very honored to meet you. I love your husband. I try and instill in myself what he preached. Can I have your autograph?” I had brought a pen, and the program from the show, but as I handed it to her, and she said, “Well, where should I – hmmm I don’t have anything to lean on?” So I bent over, and she signed the program on my back! And I was blown away, and just amazed at the opportunity. She ranks at the top for allowing me that. She was such a sweet, noble woman, just a person you could talk to and not standoffish or “Please send them away” or anything like that; she was just fantastic.
And I once stood guard at Cary Grant’s box when he came to one of the Gala concerts. He was sitting right in the middle of box 18 maybe, 17. And my head usher said, “Frank, I know there are people who are going to want autographs, but I really don’t want him to be bothered; can you stand by his box until the show starts?” I didn’t get his autograph, didn’t get a picture with him, but just to hear his voice I was enough.
What are you most proud of during your time at the Academy?
Wow, so much. I think one of the biggest things though is becoming Venue Manager. Knowing who sat in this seat in this office before me, and me to have started out as an usher to reach this level– it’s a profound thing. I was never trying to climb the ladder and was honored when they asked me to take over.” Once I hit this position, I really was like, wow. This is holy ground. This is the actual taking care of the Academy. Looking out for her. Being the caretaker at the Academy is now in my lap, and I’m responsible for this…and that’s very weighty to think about.
Frank sitting in his Manager’s office, adorned with photos of the Academy through the years
If the Academy could talk, what would you say to her?
I would first genuflect. I would kiss her ring. And just say, “I’m honored and humbled to look out for you. I know when you reach a certain age, you definitely need makeovers, and I can’t wait for the scaffolding to come down and see how beautiful you look, and I’m sorry to say it won’t be in my time working here, but I know that a year or two from now, when I come back, I will see you in all your glory.”
What are most looking forward to in your retirement?
Doting on my grandchildren and being around my kids more. My wife passed away two years ago and I want to make up for the chunks of time I missed working many evenings and weekends here. My granddaughter is taking dance and she’s only three years old, and now I can take her to dance lessons! I took her to one when I was off like, wow, this brings back memories. Looking forward to going to their events, and taking them to games, and bringing them back here for performances. It will be great to actually sit in a seat without having to work and enjoy the show. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
The Academy of Music stagehands with Frank in his final week
You’ve had probably millions of people come through your doors. What would you want to say to the guests you’ve interacted with over the years?
I would say that you’re in a very special place. Soak it in. Let your eyes dance around this beautiful theater. Take it all in and enjoy the full experience. Not just when the curtain goes up, but really enjoy this theater. I remember young kids back in the 70’s and 80’s coming to see a rock show of all things performing at the Academy. They would walk in with their jeans and t-shirts, and seeing them walk down the steps and just seeing their faces in awe like, “Wow, I didn’t know there was something this beautiful in Philly.” It was a beautiful and still is a beautiful theater. I love her so much and so that makes me feel good when someone appreciates the theater for what it is.
And my final question – Frank, are the ghosts real?
I was told by Maureen Lynch (the former Operations Manager) that there are no ghosts– only angels. And I’ve experienced these angels all through my time here. There are two instances in particular that have always stuck with me. I was working in the ballroom one time -- straightening up chairs, tables, etc. -- and all of a sudden, the elevator door opens. Nobody was on it, nobody had pressed the button, it just arrived. The door opened, stayed open for a few seconds, then closed. The first time it happened, it really scared me, but I’ve been up there before by myself and it happens often. I’ve started to call out to old ushers who have since passed like , “Hi Oppie! Hi Marc! Hi Jerry! Good to see you!” Nobody’s ever talked back to me, but I talk to them when I see the elevator.
The Ballroom elevator that the “angels” like to use
And the only other instance, is one I was told about by a security guard. He was working the graveyard shift from 11PM to 7AM and at that time of night, the only light in the theater is the ghost light on stage. It is bad luck to leave a theater in the dark. So there is only the one light on, and no one else around because it’s about 4AM at this point. The security guard is sitting at his desk when he hears this sweet violin music. At first he thinks maybe it is someone’s alarm somewhere that tunes to a classic station or something like that. So, he comes out onto the stage to try and see if he can find the source, but when he turns the lights on, the music stops. But he’s still not sure so he does his security rounds throughout the whole building – checking again for people, turning lights on, etc. – just hoping that he will find where this music could come from. He doesn’t hear it anymore, so he thinks “oh maybe I’m just hearing things” and heads back to his desk. He turns all the lights off (except the ghost light), and he starts to continue working on a few things….the music starts up again. He said he called out a few times like “Anybody there? Anybody there?” but the music kept playing. And I mean as he is telling me this story, his hands are shaking and he’s got goosebumps, and I can tell he is a little on edge, but I mean I am loving this story. It just blew him away and he said, “Frank, I was scared. I was so scared. I have never witnessed this before.” It was near the end of his shift, so he made sure everything was locked up, grabbed his book, and went across the street to Dunkin’ Donuts because he was so frightened to stay in there alone. When he came back in an hour, there was no music, no sound, no nothing.
Is there anything else you would like to say that I haven’t asked you, Frank?
Well to me, the Academy will always be my family. The sense of family I’ve felt in my years here at the Academy is unmatched. I always say, that Cornell Wood is my “brother from another mother” from how close we have been now our entire lives, but the entire the usher staff over the years -- they’ve been my family. And when the Kimmel came into being and started managing the Academy, they became an entire second family bringing so many people into my life. It’s just an unreal feeling that even when I come back years later or what have you, it’s still there, it’s still the same connection.
The usher staff before Frank’s final Broadway show
Please stand with us as we wish Frank Flood a very happy and well-deserved retirement! We will miss his unwavering dedication to our Grand Old Lady of Locust Street and send him off with the fullest hearts. We love you, Frank!
Photos by Morgan Horell.