She's Behind You
It is pantomime season and many theatres and dramatic societies put on productions to dazzle and amazing with actors and crew from the community. While I would say performing in a production could be described as a hobby so much work goes into putting the production on from the sets to selling the tickets that those roles most definitely class as volunteering. I went to Hurst Community Centre to help paint the scenery of a new production of a Christmas Carol as part of their STAGE group; which stands for Some Thursday Are Great Evenings. They meet every Thursday night to help with productions and the maintenance of the Hurst Community Centre.
I was invited to put on a full painting suit which I could only describe as a forensic overall that you might see on the set of CSI. Sophie and Natalie were also volunteering and thankfully wearing the same outfit. Sophie has been volunteering for a few months and enjoys coming down on Thursday night to paint different things. She first started volunteering when she was at university in a charity shop which she enjoyed and when she moved to the area she decided to find a new thing to do. Our job was to paint the scenery at the back of the stage. The panelling was carefully measured out by Natalie and filled in by me and Sophie with brown paint. Meanwhile the cast rehearsed on stage. It was a little bit awkward to be painting at the back of the stage as the cast rehearsed. And it wasn’t long before they started shushing us for talking too much. My biggest fear, because I’m naturally clumsy, was to kick over a pot of paint spilling all over the stage. Thankfully that didn’t happen. It felt very relaxing to paint the scenery and chat to the other volunteers. At 9 o’ clock we washed our brushes and headed off home.
On the opening night of a Christmas Carol I joined the backstage crew. I was delighted to be given my own headset and radio so I could hear what was happening. Steve was the stage manager and his father had been the stage manager at the community centre before him. Some of the cast were as young as eight and wanted to peek through the curtains to look at the audience and I spent a time chasing them around the stage. It was now my turn to do the shushing. Although I am pretty sure shushing is sometimes louder than the original noise.
Steve opened the curtains at the beginning of the show and then we climbed a little tiny ladder to drop some scenery onto the stage. I remembered that I hated heights as I clung onto a tiny platform. Unfortunately a cast member was underneath the bit of scenery so instead we went back downstairs again. There weren’t many scene changes in Act 1 so it as my job to close the curtain at the interval. I think I got a little bit enthusiastic and closed the curtains a bit too tightly. We changed the set behind the curtain and then had a cup of tea. Act 2 was much busier and there were scene changes on stage. We rushed on in the dark and quickly moved the set around as quickly as possible. The director gave me a black polystyrene turkey at one point for a burnt turkey joke. I quickly exchanged one turkey for another.
There is something amazing about being backstage in a theatre. It is exciting and interesting and you find yourself doing anything to make sure the show works okay. There is something even more nerve wrecking being the stage crew than actually being on stage. You feel a whole heap of responsibility. It was my job to close the curtains for the end of the show the cast took two bows. The audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show.
I returned for the final night and did the scene changes dressed in a full reindeer outfit. Not easy but the audience seemed to like this and chuckled when they saw me and the stage manager who was dressed as Santa. We even played couple of last night pranks including a spider that appeared at points throughout the show courtesy of the stage manager.
The production had everything from cute children to music and dancing. With a Christmassy ending as it snowed onstage and everything you’d expect of a pantomime. Men dressed as women and women dressed as men with laughs and jokes and two members of stage crew in crazy costumes. Volunteering in Panto season is a whole lot of fun. If you would like to find out more about what is happening at Hurst Community Centre including their New Year celebrations you can visit www.hurstcomcentre.co.uk.