Last night was my first shift on the Front of House volunteer rota at the wonderful theatre I will be helping out at over the coming months. To say that I was a little nervous would be an understatement. As with any new job, my first day was filled with introductions, instructions and explanations that can be hard to remember fully. What is needed is experience of carrying out the tasks to allow repetition to lodge the information firmly in memory to be recalled without thinking. This can only be achieved over time.
The tasks that I was required to complete were not arduous but they were new, and I have never attempted to do anything like this before. It is a long time since I have chosen to put myself this far out of my comfort zone.
I calm my nerves and build my resolve to succeed by preparing as best I can beforehand. Thus I spent some time yesterday afternoon sorting through the little things that I could anticipate may be issues. I dislike driving, particularly when I am not familiar with the area or when traffic is busy. I live in a rural village whereas the theatre is seventeen miles away in the nearest city. When I go there I will often catch a train to avoid the need to drive, but this is not always possible late at night when scheduled train services are few and far between.
When I have driven in the past I have always parked my car in the same place simply because I know where the car park is. The parking charges are high here however, so I spent yesterday researching alternatives and, having found a couple of viable options, carefully planned and memorised the route so that I could navigate on my own in busy traffic. I know that most people take this sort of thing in their stride; I do not.
Having prepared the family dinner and left my daughter to serve it up, I departed feeling very on edge. It was a beautiful, sunny evening and the drive was, thankfully, trouble free. I found my way through the maze of streets and one way systems without difficulty. Although traffic was heavy I was not bothered by aggressive tailgaters, impatient to get me out of their way. The car park appeared where expected and spaces were available. The first challenge of the evening had been accomplished.
I had a little time before the pre show staff meeting to check out the best route from theatre to car park. I expected it to be dark when I emerged from the show so wished to walk on lit and busy paths. In the event I was released at dusk; the joys of these long, summer days. There were still plenty of people around so I was comfortable on my journey which was a welcome, short, pleasant and relaxing stroll after the challenges of the evening.
So, what did my evening entail? Arriving at the theatre I found everything shut off, as I should have anticipated, to prevent members of the public entering before show time. I should have just walked in, but made the mistake of asking the staff at the booking desk if I may do so. They had never heard of the volunteer scheme and told me to wait outside, taking me to be a member of the audience. They were busy and disinterested in the explanation I attempted to give.
I dithered before deciding that I couldn’t be late on my first night. Gathering my courage as best I could I walked through and round the barrier into a room full of Front of House staff just as the meeting began. Although I received a few curious looks I was not challenged and, at a suitable moment in the briefing, was introduced. It was a relief to be expected by the manager giving the briefing who then took me in hand to ensure that I knew what to do and where to be throughout the evening.
From there my job began. Of the dozen or so people I was introduced to I remember barely a couple of names; I have never been good at remembering names. At first I felt foolish standing in the foyer greeting strangers, checking their tickets and ensuring that they knew how to find their way to their seats. It helped though that all the people I encountered throughout the evening were friendly and polite, if a little curious. This volunteer experiment is as new for the theatre as it was for me.
The show itself, Bernard Shaw’s Candida, was very enjoyable. Part of my job is to ensure that the audience abide by the rules, particularly as regards photography, and to check that nobody becomes unwell or requires assistance during the performance. Watching the audience watching the show meant that I was unable to immerse myself fully in the play as I normally would. However, I was able to appreciate the skill of the players even if I missed some of the nuances of the dialogue.
I was particularly impressed with Christopher Godwin, who was playing Mr Burgess. He was on stage having had 48 hours to learn the part (including opening night) following the unexpected, sudden departure of the original member of the cast due to family illness. He fully deserved the extra applause he was given at curtain call.
I felt rather foolish walking the designated route around the theatre during the interval to allow myself to be seen by the audience as other staff members carried out their tasks in the bars and selling tubs of ice cream. As I was called upon several times for information this must have been of some use to the patrons. I am so unused to putting myself in a position where I need to be seen; normally I prefer invisibility.
Overall then, I enjoyed the experience and feel that I fulfilled the purpose for which I was taken on. I gained a better understanding of how the smooth cogs of a working theatre are oiled to enable patrons to relax and enjoy their experience. I also got to meet some lovely people and to watch the show; all the reasons why I took on this role were ticked.
Having handed back my staff badge and distinguishing shoulder bag, I collected my things and returned to my car. The main road that I use to travel into the city was by this time closed due to roadworks, so I had to find my way home by an alternative route. This stressed me a little (I am such a wuss) but was accomplished without incident. I arrived home to a silent house with all my family retired peacefully to bed.
Due to forthcoming family holidays, my next night ‘on duty’ is a month away. Next time should be easier as there will be fewer unknowns. I am looking forward to it already.