In Bristol, many theatres are small intimate affairs, repurposed from old factories or renovated spare bedrooms above local pubs. The theatre is youthful, experimental,
interesting, dynamic, political, poorly attended, whimsical and occasionally exclusive; most of all it is by the people of Bristol and for the people of Bristol.
The theatre I work in is not like this, it is big, very big. It holds nearly 2,000 people and has some of the world’s biggest shows and LOTS of smoke machines. Sometimes it feels like the people of Bristol have a love/hate relationship with my theatre; they love the magic and the grandeur and the chance to see West End shows right on their doorstep, but they hate the corporate uniformity and the price of wine. I love Bristol with all my heart but I believe it fails to see the absolute GOLDMINE it has just sitting like a purring cat on the Harbourside, steeped in history of fallen stars, ghost stories, premier appearances, final performances and huge tours. It has opened its arms to the people of Bristol and given them the comforting hug of entertainment throughout its toughest times, and once you step inside that auditorium you are whisked away from the world.
On the other hand, it has played host to some of the worst theatre I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, I say the pleasure because there is still an element of beauty to even the worst theatrical productions. The neon lights of Menopause The Musical will never leave the insides of my eyelids. Yet, once you look past the wonder bras and hot flushes, you see a room full of people who have rallied their gals and pals (dressed up in sequins and kitten heels) and come to the theatre, maybe for the very first time. They have come to see real people, in the flesh, strutting their stuff. They may not have had any reason to come to the theatre before, but they are here now, singing and laughing along, sharing this experience with nearly 2,000 others. I hope you won’t discount my opinion entirely, when I say that Menopause The Musical, rubbish though it may be, is what theatre is all about.
Working Front of House you are exposed to the ugliest parts of theatre. The stupidity and righteousness of those who walk through the doors is dazzling. It’s odd, because these traits come from both ends of the scale. Those who have never been to the theatre before struggle to understand the beauty of the building, the talent on the stage and the speed in which all staff are running around the building making sure their Prosecco is READY for when the interval hits and they regroup to talk about the ladies sat behind them.
We had Wicked. One of the most popular new musicals of our time. *SPOILERS* coming up for those of you who STILL haven’t seen it, but Act 1 concludes itself with a belter of a self-discovery and a cleverly hidden crane mechanism which lifts the actress into the air as she welds a broomstick. Now, the part of Elphaba is a huge undertaking, your vocal prowess and strength must be outstanding and it's no lie that audiences are waiting for the moment she rises above their seats. Except, one time she didn’t. Nothing happened. Instead of being thrust into the gods, she ran to the front of the stage just as the ensemble threw themselves to the floor to look up in awe. She belted, and it was glorious and the audience leapt to their feet.
“ Excuse me, will I be getting a refund for this show? Elphaba didn’t defy any gravity? ”
The ugly also comes from those who come every week and book the exact same seat for every show 2 years in advance. They stroll past and with a flutter of their hand and exclaim;
“ I know where I’m sitting, no need to check my ticket.”
They then proceed to walk in the complete opposite direction, clearly disregarding all knowledge of the alphabet and numerical order. We get a lot of confusion regarding this. A lot of;
“I’m sitting in G.”
“Yes madam, which level are you on?”
“G. Row G.”
“Madam there are three Row G’s in this building, perhaps a seat number would help?”
There’s no more you can do. You must let them wander into the abyss and only find them later arguing with the couple who also believe they are ROW G and shan’t be moving anywhere else.
You find yourself metally preparing for a crowd brought by the Welsh National Opera or the ballet, knowing your every human flaw will be used against you when a patron can’t understand the opera sung in French, or the callousness of the hand towels in the bathrooms.
I have found myself in far too many ridiculous situations that I can’t begin to explain now; perhaps we should do a series of crazy things that have happened to us in a theatre, we could share some absolute bangers I’m sure. I like that, let’s do that.
I moan a lot about my job, mainly I think due to my frustration of people’s ignorance and lack of appreciation for the building they are in. My most favourite thing to do at work is place myself on the left hand side of the stalls, right down at the front about 5 minutes before the show is due to end. Here I am in prime position to see 2000 people erupt to their feet to applaud the work they’ve just seen before them. It’s indescribable. Honestly, I’ve tried to explain it and deleted it so many times.
Watching a standing ovation just takes your breath away, it almost all happens in slow motion. The little girl marching forward in a school dress after playing Matilda, the cast of the Lion King proving that the Circle of Life really does move us all. Even The Bodyguard (potentially the craziest audiences I’ve ever had to deal with) was miraculous, watching the audience scream OH I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY back at Alexandra Burke...wow.
I love my theatre, and it’s crew and it’s shows and even it’s audiences. Because it proves to me what theatre can do to every single one of us. The accessibility that our beautiful, dysfunctional, dilapidated theatre offers to thousands of people in the West Country is astonishing. I’ll never get bored of spending my life there.
It breaks my heart to know it’s standing there, all dark and empty. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m grateful that these precautions are in place, but the moment we’re allowed back we’ll put a plaster on the crack in the wall, put on our customer service smiles and unbolt those doors because that building deserves to have its seats filled and its curtain raised. We’ll need the joy, especially after all this. You can be sure that I will be found on Stalls Left, watching the final bow of our first show back. Eek.
Thank you for taking the time to read our second post! We’re loving having this new platform to share with you all and for ourselves to keep. You’ll be hearing from us again NEXT TUESDAY.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay creative and WASH YOUR HANDS.
All my love,