First Night Nerves

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.

The Georgian terrace of Royal Crescent (Bath, ...

Security and control

There I was; sitting feet up on a sofa in my sunny, family room yesterday afternoon; cup of coffee by my side; searching the internet for some pertinent information that I needed for a piece of writing that I was working on; when a group of window cleaners appeared unexpectedly in my back garden. From feeling relaxed and engrossed in my work I moved to a state of moderate anxiety. My space had been invaded.

If I did not pay someone else to clean our windows then the job would never get done. When I lived on my own this was how I chose to live, but my husband notices dirt on windows and it bothers him. Thus I must put up with the monthly visits from the window enhancement specialists, even though their presence makes me feel uncomfortable. They are friendly and efficient in their work so give me no reason for concern, but I still dislike their visits. When I hear them approach with their clanking ladders and buckets I feel the urge to pull down the blinds and hide until they are gone. In the event I fight this foolishness and embark on some useful activity. My house is now cleaner inside than it would have been had they not made an appearance yesterday afternoon.

My privacy is very important to me. I can only truly relax when I know that I am alone and unobserved. I would not wish to live a life of complete solitude as I value the company of my family and friends, but I am only at complete ease when on my own. I sometimes think that I would make rather a good hermit.

When in the company of other people there is an expectation that one will behave in a certain way. Parents are encouraged to teach their children by example so must try to behave appropriately. Friends will be interested in certain aspects of one’s life but probably not the minutiae of every passing thought, so a mental filter is required to produce conversation that it is hoped will be of interest. Only the closest of family members will be happy to listen to the random, free range discourse that can be emitted from a head stuffed full of thoughts on and opinions about everything that has been read or seen in a given period of time. I am never as satisfied with the verbal conversations that I have as with the internal discussions that precede them. The spoken word is rarely my friend.

Growing up in Belfast it was common practice for my regular companions and I to call at each other’s houses unannounced. Whether the visit was planned or spontaneous there seemed no need to forewarn. Perhaps this harked back to the days before all houses had telephones, but popping in for a quick visit was an expected occurrence. When I moved to England I was vexed that I found it so hard to make new friends. I could easily arrange to go out and socialise with a number of people, but nobody ever called round to visit me at home. In the early days of my new life I would surprise my new acquaintances by appearing on their doorsteps; they always seemed a little put out when this happened so I soon abandoned the habit. It would seem that I have now conformed to the established reserve of my adopted countrymen, and have probably taken it even further as the years have passed by. It is rare indeed for me to call on anyone without forewarning them of my intention; an unexpected call at my door causes uneasiness more often than the eager anticipation that I would once have felt.

I suspect that the reason for this change in my behaviour is my need to feel in control of my life. So much of what I do is dictated by the needs of my significant others. I have freely chosen to share what I am with them, but find the cost can sometimes be difficult to bear. I need to guard a space and time for myself if I am to find the inner contentment that allows me to be a better person for all. I need to feel the security of self acceptance; to be allowed some measure of choice in how I live and how I spend my time. Too often it feels as though others are making decisions for me with which I am uncomfortable.

My best days are still those that I spend enjoying life with my family and friends. The memories that provide the highlights when I look back on what I have done are the events that I embarked upon with others of my choosing. However, just as we need to feel well rested before we may fully enjoy an activity, so must I give myself time alone before I can fully appreciate the benefits of company. I also find, more and more as I get older, that I can relax only with those that I have freely chosen to spend time with. For me, having that control can make the difference between anxiety and eager anticipation of an event. I need to be granted the freedom to live my own life as I choose.

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Free to be me