Will Eltzroth knows how to usher.
It’s the know-how honed over the course of 81 shifts volunteering at IU Cinema as a freshman, the most of any usher that year. Eltzroth, 19 and a sophomore studying media production, will receive a nameplate in his honor on a seat of his choice in the theater.
The job is in the details — perfecting the proper ticket-tearing technique while maintaining eye contact with the customer, switching back and forth between watching the film and the audience on the hunt for a stray phone screen, making sure to prepare for rainy days so his usher’s uniform is impeccable.
“Since you’re wearing the white shirt, you need an umbrella otherwise you can’t usher because then your nips are showing,” he said. “I was always really good about that.”
Every year, the cinema awards the usher with the highest amount of shifts with a permanent nameplate on one of the theater seats. With his 81 shifts, Eltzroth didn’t just have the most shifts of his year — he’s set a record for the most ever in a single year since the cinema opened in 2011. Last year’s honoree, 2017 graduate Mary Mitchell, was recognized for 54.
He didn’t even know he had done something worthy of an award until friends starting texting him congratulations.
“They were like ‘congrats for the award,’” he said, “and I was like, ‘what award?’”
He started signing up in bulk for 10 and 20 shifts at a time, which isn’t that unusual for ushers at the beginning of the year said Jessica Davis Tagg, the cinema’s assistant director of events, facilities and guest services.
“It was less shocking that he signed up, it was that he kept doing it,” she said. “Will is phenomenal.”
With every volunteer shift, Eltzroth received a free ticket voucher.
“I never ended up using any of them. Whenever I wanted to see a movie I would just usher for it,” he said.
He estimates that at his peak ticket hoarding, he had around 70 tickets at one time.
It all started with a hat. On a visit to IU before his freshman year, his father went into the IU Cinema on a whim and met Jon Vickers, the cinema’s founding director. Eltzroth says Vickers gave his father a black baseball hat with the cinema’s name in white on the front.
“Which was groundbreaking because then I had to get an IU Cinema hat,” Eltzroth said. “I was hoping if I ushered enough, they would kind of be like ‘oh man you’re a great usher, have a hat. You earned it.’”
He actually did receive the hat in recognition of his sixtieth shift in February, but accidentally left it at his house in Crown Point before moving back down for his sophomore year — he sounds annoyed with himself when he says it’s still on his bedroom lamp: “Oh, dude, don’t even ask.”
Neither snow nor rain nor any other weather condition stopped Eltzroth from ushering. He walked to every single one of his shifts with only one exception — he got a ride from a friend when “Mississippi Masala” came to the cinema in the middle of a blizzard.
Eltzroth, who wants to be a writer-director, said there’s no feeling like watching a good movie. He wants to make movies that give the audience goosebumps, the kind of offbeat films he spent his freshman year watching at the cinema, like space-western musical “American Astronaut” or Brazilian werewolf flick “Good Manners.”
“It’s kind of like seeing someone’s brain splatter on paper,” he said. “There’s books and there’s paintings, but film is, in my opinion, the most transparent way to show what you’re thinking and convey what you want to say.”
He said he plans to put his dad’s name on the seat because he didn’t want to put his own and he couldn’t think of any appropriate movie quotes. He’s not sure which seat he’s going to choose — maybe one of the designated seats for ushers in the back of the theater where he spent so many nights.
For those wanting to volunteer, IU Cinema is recruiting ushers and has a callout meeting planned for Aug. 21. Eltzroth, however, wants to take a step back from volunteering and instead visit the cinema as an audience member.
Maybe he’ll even get around to using some of those vouchers.
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