Usher Insights - Alan

"When my professional life entered a more part-time phase, my thoughts drifted towards how best to utilise some of the spare time this would bring. I chose to volunteer my services to the theatre for two main reasons, one generic and the other more specific.

As a lover and supporter of live music and theatre, I found quite often that my evenings out in various venues (big and small) could potentially be marred by the attitudes of some of the ushers and other front-of-house staff, who gave out the impression that their main role was to ‘police’ rather than to ‘welcome’ the customers. Their somewhat ‘po-faced’ expressions and overly overt vigilance sent out a message that the theatre was reluctantly allowing the public to enter their domain, albeit at the penalty of buying a ticket. I have been to friendlier war museums!

Theatre and concert goers avidly look forward to their chosen shows and a ‘night out’, having paid out not insignificant sums of hard earned money. Our responsibilities as volunteers include doing all we can to meet or even enhance the customers’ high expectations, with the positive knock-on effect that they are likely to come back time and time again.

More specifically, I chose the Palace Theatre in Newark. Although it is not particularly local to me, I had always enjoyed my various visits there as a ‘punter’, not only for the shows put on but also for the beauty and the ambience of this very intimate venue. Additionally, in my professional role as a consultant to Newark & Sherwood District Council, my intermittent involvement with the Palace’s paid staff gave me quite a close bond.

I have been a volunteer since 2014. I particularly enjoy the pantomime season and the opportunity to engage with young kids and their relatives that this gives. Yes, it is a remarkably busy time for us, but it has its rewards. I also have a soft spot for those locally focussed performances such as the various dance school shows. And some of the productions put on by the Newark Amateur Operatic Society would not disgrace the West End!

I have been encouraged to share a notably memorable experience from my time as a volunteer. There is one really stand-out moment, but I’m not sure that it will escape the editor’s blue pencil! [editor's note: will just add a proceed with caution!]

With the opening of the National Civil War Centre and the consequent refurbishment at the front of house, the electrics in the foyer were upgraded. The lights in the toilets are now controlled by movement, and come on and go off as people go in and out, with a slight delay before activation. Shortly after this system was installed, I was on ‘meet and greet’ duty in the foyer. The first gentleman to arrive went immediately into the Gents, but came out very shortly afterwards, complaining to me that the lights were not working. He hadn’t been in there long enough for the lights to come on! Realising this, I explained to him that the new lighting system in the Gents was being trialled on the basis of ‘size’, and it was possible that the physical attributes of a particular part of his anatomy might not be sufficient to activate the lightbulbs. I then proceeded to ‘demonstrate’ by walking in myself. Shazam! On came the lights! The bemused expression on his face gradually changed to one of amusement as he realised that I was only pulling his leg.

At the interval, he sought me out to tell me that his wife was complaining about his incessant chuckling. That was one evening where I’m sure that I met the brief and made it (at least for him) a truly memorable evening at the Palace Theatre." - Thank you Alan!