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Posts Tagged ‘ushering’

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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Back in the winter, Lyric Stage (my favorite local theater company) tweeted about needing volunteer ushers for their early spring production, The Book of Will. I’d never even thought about ushering before that, but I signed up and happily showed up early to hand out programs, direct patrons to their seats, and see the show for free. One of my fellow ushers said she’d been doing this for years: “It’s a whole scene!” she told me. I resolved to look into it.

Since then, I’ve ushered at two more Lyric Stage productions, and last month, I expanded my efforts to other theaters: the Huntington, which was showing the brand-new production Common Ground Revisited, and the ART in Cambridge, which just finished its run of the fantastic revival of 1776. I spent three out of four Friday nights in June ushering at local shows, and I have to say, it’s the best volunteer gig in town.

I love live theater, and I missed it sorely during the worst of the pandemic: streaming a play or two online, as I did, just isn’t the same thing. There’s something visceral and immediate – and so much fun – about being in a space with live actors, watching them tell stories in real time.

Volunteering has allowed me a glimpse behind the scenes, too: I’ve met a few staff members as well as fellow volunteers, and watched the audience stream in, excited or indifferent or anxious to find their seats, and settle in for an evening (or an afternoon) of storytelling. It’s a delight to be a small part of making the show happen, and (of course) the reward is wonderful: getting to see the show for free in exchange for a bit of time.

Several of Boston’s theaters are dark for the summer right now, but you can bet I’ll be ushering again this fall. I’m so thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me slice of the city I live in and love.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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