Usher Insights - Kay
"I was volunteering as a lock keeper for the Canal and River Trust at Newark Town Lock, when one year, a fellow 'lockie' called Mike asked me what I had planned for the winter months. 'Nothing', I replied... Mike, went on to tell me he also volunteered for the Palace Theatre as an usher and that it was great fun.
So I submitted my application and went along for a friendly and relaxed interview with Andrea Smedley, the Volunteer Manager. Andrea explained what was required and I started volunteering as an usher in February 2017. My very first show was a Saturday afternoon matinee for children called Rapunzel. It was magical. The story was retold through some amazing colourful puppets. The smiles on the faces of the children and hearing them laugh was pure joy! I remember thinking, 'I’m going to like volunteering here...'
The tribute bands we have at the Palace are quite incredible. If you close your eyes it really could be Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkle or my all time favourite Think Floyd. During a Michael Jackson tribute act, the performer was so good, the audience thought he was miming to a backing track, so he sang to the audience without music to prove it WAS actually him who was singing! He was wonderful with the children in the audience too, many of whom had come dressed up as Michael Jackson. He got a couple of the children up on stage to sing with him, which was really special...
I really enjoy the lectures. I had the privilege of listening to Sir Ranulph Fiennes, our great British explorer, who had the audience in stitches for the entire evening from the first minute he stepped on stage, Sir Robert Winston, Dan Snow, Michael Portillo, Ann Widdecombe and many more... Ms Widdecombe was just lovely. She wore a beautiful long sparkly dress and before the show started and before the audience had been allowed in, she came out front of house and said hello to all the ushers and staff working at the Palace Theatre that night.
I often volunteer for shows that I would not have otherwise considered, such as Railways Remembered or a string quartet evening. I always come away having learned something and having enjoyed the evening. During one classical music event, we were ten minutes from the end of the first half. It was all very quiet and serious, when a large man in the back row of the front stalls suddenly yelled out in pain at the top of his voice and threw himself back in his seat. He kept shouting out and I rushed over thinking he was having a heart attack... the string quartet meanwhile, played gallantly on, whilst it took me and two other male audience members to help the gentleman from his seat and escort him into the bar area. It turned out he just had cramp in his leg! But it didn’t end there...
His wife, a tiny Irish lady in a wheelchair, joined the gentleman shortly afterwards in the interval. She had pre-ordered a double whisky from the bar, but was complaining she had only been served a single. I went to the bar, and the server confirmed she had been served a double. The lady wasn’t satisfied and was getting quite vocal, claiming she was an ex-publican and she knew a double whisky when she saw one and what she had been served certainly wasn’t a double whisky! I went to fetch Laura, the duty manager for the evening, who also confirmed the lady had been served a double, but the lady still wasn’t having it, so Laura went to the bar and fetched a single whisky in another glass and placed it side by side for comparison. The lady picked up the single whisky, poured it into the glass with the double whisky and downed it in one and said, “Now that’s a double whisky!” The look on Laura’s face was priceless!
I really enjoy helping out at Pantomime. Every single show is different with each audience contributing something different every time. My favourite part is when the children go and stage and take part at the end. Some of their responses are so funny... one little boy just wanted to show the audience how he could “floss” and kept on doing it to rapturous applause... One Easter Pantomime was so funny... the 'Twelve Days Of' song consisted of five sumo wrestlers instead of five golden rings. The actors ran on stage at their allotted point wearing large inflatable sumo wrestler costumes, which made it very difficult for them to stand up and not fall over. As they fell down, their costumes deflated and they had to run off stage and get pumped up again. It was hilarious!
As an usher you get to see the shows you work at for free. The only cost to you is a cheery smile, a helpful attitude and a bit of litter picking when the show is over. Many people will have booked tickets a long time in advance and are looking forward to the show. Everyone is in a good mood and there is a lot of cheerful banter. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening instead of being stuck at home trying to find something to watch on the telly.
All the ushers and staff at the Place are a cheerful friendly bunch. We all get together once a year for a bit of party and a quiz, with a mock awards ceremony. In the summer, all volunteers are treated to an annual treat as a thank you. One year we all went on a coach trip to Newstead Abbey and another year, we had a volunteers only concert in Newark Castle grounds, a tour of the dungeons and a boat trip up the river Trent on the Sonning. This year was our centenary celebration, which has unfortunately been cut short due to Covid-19, but just before lockdown, we managed to all get dressed up in 1920s costumes and were treated to a musical event and buffet at the Palace Theatre. The stage was dressed as a 1920s Speak Easy with a band playing lovely 1920s jazz music." - Thank you Kay!