Friday, 29 June 2012

Wings and Wheels

I have to write about my shift last night as although it was my first 'normal' ushering post since we came back, it was somewhat unusual.

As I think I've explained, the show has audience seats on stage, six rows of them, behind the actors. Where there are audience, there must be ushers, and so that's where I was working last night. It was odd working at the Gielgud and not being entirely sure what I was doing when!

It was different from the very beginning, as the ushers on stage are given a black t-shirt to wear instead of the white shirt, so as to not be so visible. Kitted out in my new M&S top then, I waited for the auditorium to open and then made my way to the wings at stage right.

Box A, our 'royal' box and most luxurious space (this was where Robbie Coltrane was that time) has been converted into a dressing area/wardrobe space, as it leads directly onto the stage in the right wing. Some audience members have to pass through this area to get to their seats, which must be a pretty extraordinary experience for them! Several wondered out loud if they were going the right way. I stood in the wing itself, collecting people as they arrived from the Box and showing them where they were sitting. There are two rows on stage level, right at the front, another two rows raised slightly behind and a final two rows above, accessed by a set of stairs which go up behind the set. I had to tell each patron the rules about eating, drinking, and toilet breaks (naturally, we must be more strict with those sitting under the lights in full glare of the rest of the audience).

During the interval, I was posted again by Box A, ensuring those returning from the bar didn't take their drinks back on stage with them. Then, I was 'sitting in' for Act 2. This normally involves sitting at the back of the level you are working on, keeping an eye on the audience and watching the show whilst you're at it. I was looking forward, when I saw the rota, to finally getting to see some of the play. This was not meant to be, however.

On stage, the only place that we can sit is in the wings, behind the set, halfway up the steps which lead up to the upper audience seats. Thus, I couldn't see any of the stage (or in fact the audience, making me ponder slightly what the point is). Although this may get boring after a few goes at it, it did however create a whole new source of entertainment. Literally sitting in the wings near the makeshift wardrobe department meant I had a view of the mayhem of backstage during the show. Actors coming in and out, dashing through into the Box and back again; dressers running back and forth carrying bits of costume; stage hands running around with bits of props. I was glad I'd met most of them on stage door on Tuesday, as it meant most of them, if they had a moment, smiled or nodded a hello at me. It was a pretty unique experience! Not least when, at one point, Simon Williams (in his academic robe costume) took a moment before his last scene to sit on the steps next to me, lean over and whisper 'Good day in the football - Italy beat Germany!' and to also update me on Nadal's progress at Wimbledon. He then galloped off onto stage and moments later I could hear his voice booming out to the audience, whilst I sat just feet away on the other side of the set. I always thought that seeing what goes on backstage during the show must be fascinating, so that was the closest I've got to it. The line between audience and stage is definitely blurred in this production, and I guess that means our roles have slightly changed too.

There is only one more thing I want to comment on, and that is that I heard today that the tyrannical head teacher I worked for last year has finally been 'let go', after months of suspension. I cannot quite find the words to express how happy I feel about this. He destroyed careers, lives and sprits. He created a miserable atmosphere and made so many false promises. His ideas for the school were ludicrous and he made so many inane decisions. Karma is a beautiful thing, when it works out.

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