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It’s becoming my pre-theatre tradition: a train ride from Eastie to the Back Bay neighborhood, a BLT and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips, a cookie or brownie, and half an hour with a book. I take this pause between the workday and the show, immersing myself in one fictional world before diving into another. And then I gather my purse and head across the street, ready to begin my ushering gig at Lyric Stage Boston.

I started ushering back in the winter, first for The Book of Will (above) and subsequently for several other shows at Lyric Stage and elsewhere. I’ve loved my gigs at the Huntington and the ART, but I’ve returned, over and over, to this small black-box theatre in the heart of Back Bay, which puts on dazzling productions – funny, clever, moving – in a small space.

my fair lady set

I’ve loved live theatre since I was a child, since my parents would take us to musicals and the annual production of A Christmas Carol at our local community theatre. I was too shy to participate, beyond the Easter pageants at church, but I’ve always loved settling into my seat and watching a story – new or familiar – come to life. I especially adore getting a glimpse into the magic behind the scenes, whether it’s actors warming up or sets being moved into place or simply stacking programs in preparation for the audience to arrive.

There’s no physical curtain at Lyric Stage, but I often think of Betsy Ray’s poem from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown while I’m handing out programs or waiting, along with the rest of the audience, for the show to start:

The curtain goes up,
The curtain goes up,
It’s a wonderful moment,
When the curtain goes up…

Betsy captures the anticipation – be it quiet or electric – of those moments in the pre-show dark, when we are waiting to be entertained or moved or challenged, when the actors are standing backstage, their lines on their lips. I love watching the pieces move together, the story envelop us all, the lines and scenes and musical numbers come together to immerse us in a completely different world for a while. Theatre as an art form has endured for thousands of years, but each performance is singular, ephemeral, time-limited: it hangs in the air for a couple of hours, then disappears as we emerge, blinking, back into our lives.

I’m looking forward, always, to the next time I get to see a show – whether as an usher, an audience member, or both. I love being a tiny but integral part of the process: answering questions, handing out programs and showing people to their seats. And I especially love that collective deep breath before Act I, Scene I – that moment, alive with anticipation, before the (real or metaphorical) curtain goes up.

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