A day in the life of an Usher

Have you ever wondered about the stories of our lovely staff? Here, we’re treated to ‘a day in the life of an usher’ by our brilliant Front of House team’s Zoe Hatziantoniou.


IMG_8509When I talk to my friends and family about Bristol Old Vic and how much I look forward to each show and the patrons I meet, they share same enthusiasm as me. But, in truth, this Theatre means a lot more to me than I can express.

At the start of my shift I enter through Stage Door and greet Robin, our Stage Door Receptionist, and head straight to the Duty Manager’s office where Andrew Stocker, who’s on-duty that evening, is waiting for me. Here we exchange one of our established traditions. He knows that if I’m working one of his shifts, we’ll make fun of my need for a fleece – because I get cold so easily. Our catch phrase: “Fleece, please” is accompanied with an upward turn of the wrist, in a very dramatic way. It’s a greeting he always expects, and we never forget to say it to each other.

As I walk back along the corridor to clock in, one of the funniest moments in my time working here hits me… It was the first time that I ushered Junkyard from Pit Door 1. I was sitting in my usher seat when, about 10 minutes into the show, a woman entered. She waited on the steps for a moment so, thinking she was a patron, I started to get up and help her to her seat. Before I knew it she rushed up the steps and was immediately greeted with spotlights and the whole auditorium was looking at her as she walked to the stage. It turns out she was one of the actors, so I’m glad I stopped myself in that moment and didn’t ask to check her ticket.

After clocking in, I stop at our Backstage Bar and arrange show programmes for my team before making my way to the Dress Circle for our Duty Manager briefing. This involves talking through all the latecomer points during the show and actors who may enter or use any of the Theatre levels during the show, all while we make our last minute preparations and put in our radio earpieces.

Once the briefing is over, we head to our assigned level to make sure it’s clear and ready for the evening’s patrons. As soon as we’ve done our checks, we’ll sit at wait in one of the rows overlooking the stage and wait to hear the Duty Manager announce: “House open”!

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As patrons make their way in, we check their tickets to make sure they’re on the right level and replace any glass with plastic cups. It’s at this point that I often hear people commenting about the Theatre’s ongoing redevelopment and I’m just as excited as they are to see how the place is going to be in a year’s time. Once everyone is in, we then wait to hear that the House is clear and take our seat.

Lights usually go dim as the story begins and, during this time, we’ll be on alert for any radio messages about latecomers while we keep our diligent eyes on the house.

I didn’t realise how much I’d come to love this job in the time it’s been since I applied. I still remember my interview with Liz Hebden, our Front of House Manager, sat on the sofas in our old foyer by the big Georgian windows that overlook King Street. I was talking fast, telling her about all the books I had read on Stanislavski and how much I wanted to work for Bristol Old Vic. In hindsight, talking about acting theories and literature might have been a little over the top, but it was genuine and something I’m so passionate about.

My mind is taken to some funny places whenever someone asks me about the Theatre, mostly to Andrew and the fondness of our catchphrase and ‘almost asking an actor for their ticket’, but it’s the conversations with our actors, our patrons and so many others that makes Bristol Old Vic a very special place.

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People, Places & Things – Five minutes with Jeremy Herrin

The UK tour of People, Places & Things has officially begun and to celebrate we caught up with Headlong’s Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin to get sneaky behind-the-scenes insight into the company’s ★★★★★ smash hit…


Portrait. 2012, Credit Johan Persson/Why did you decide to tour People, Places & Things?
I think it’s important to share this story around the country. It made such an impact when we did it before that, as a national touring company, Headlong should invest in getting the show out and about.

Tell us a little bit about the play.
It’s a tale of one woman’s battle with addiction. She’s a challenging person who happens to be an actress. Her struggle to survive involves her addressing fundamental questions PPTabout who she is, but who is that?

Why is addiction an important story to bring to audiences across the country?
If people aren’t directly affected by it, they know someone who is. We can all relate to a direct or indirect degree.

People, Places & Things was originally a piece of new-writing commissioned by Headlong. What initially attracted you to Duncan Macmillan’s script?
Its humanity, its intellectual rigour, its jokes, its opportunity for great performances, its thrills, its theatricality, its soulfulness, its wisdom.

Who do you think this production will appeal to in particular?
Everyone will get something out of it: first time theatre goers as well as regular attendees. Older audiences will appreciate the conflicts and tensions in the piece and youngsters will enjoy how visceral and explosive it is. And vice versa.

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The characters in this production are complex. What do you hope that the new cast will bring out of the production?
Their own insights and truths, to find their own ways of communicating the power of this piece.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
A sense that theatre is the most entertaining and lively way to grapple with complex subjects. That whether we are addicts or not we all understand Emma’s contradictions. Her will to survive and overcome her obstacles speaks to us all about the challenges we face in life and how we all hope to survive with dignity and self respect.


Following a critically acclaimed, sold out season at the National Theatre, People, Places & Things hits our stage 24-28 Oct. For more info and to book, click here.

The Caretaker Rehearsal Diary – Week 4

With preparations for previews well under way, The Caretaker Assistant Director Chino Odimba took a quick five minutes out of the rehearsal room to fill us in on all the latest updates from week 4.


The Caretaker - Rehearsals - Photo by Iona Firouzabadi - 8473.jpgIf the last three weeks have been the slow saunter through the tunnel, mascot happily dancing in front of you, this week is the bit just before the referee throws the coin up in the air.

And now imagine that before all of this, this is the first time you have been on this particular pitch, in this particular stadium…

Weird football analogy over…

Having spent most of the rehearsal time so far in a one of the lovely rehearsal spaces at Bristol Old Vic, we are now moving onto the stage.

This may come as surprise but for most productions, the cast do not start using the stage space until the final week of rehearsal.

It is a week of testing everything that we have been doing in the rehearsal room – and sometimes having to rethink scenes. There are people everywhere – technicians, costumes makers, dressers, stage managers, producers, sound designers, lighting designers, and the cast all trying to get the best of the week before we open to you – the public! We might even spot our Artistic Director Tom Morris popping in to see how things are going…eeek!!!

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This part of the process is where all the ideas about costumes, lighting, sound and set come together to make the show that we will all be seeing in under six days!  The set will be ‘dressed’, things will be ‘flown’ and the several gallons of coffee will be drank!

There is also a lot of excitement to see the final look for each actor…we have had some glimpses of costume but yet to see them in all their glory.

My role as Assistant Director will mean I spend a lot of time with the actors helping to them to feel confident with who their character is, and ensuring they know their lines as best as possible. Right until the opening previews, we will now be working to make the show better and better, and find new things that we didn’t, and couldn’t, have found in the rehearsal room.

I’ve had a fun time being Assistant Director for The Caretaker – it is a play that I love very much so feel especially honoured to be working on it. Seeing the process of a play from the initial reading of the script to the realisation of it on a stage is something quite special indeed.

For now, I’m strapping my boots on, waiting for the whistle to go, and for kick-off!!

Wish us luck…and see you there for a post match drink or two!


The Caretaker opens at Bristol Old Vic 9-30 September. For more information and to book tickets, click here. 

The Missing Pieces Company: Interview

Ahead of The Front Room, the latest from the ‘Missing Pieces’ script-in-hand line-up, we caught up with actor Ellen Thomas who’ll be taking on the lead role at The Wardrobe Theatre this September.


 

Ellen Thomas

Well known for her roles in EastEnders, Rev, and Teachers, Ellen Thomas is no stranger to the stage either.

 

Welcome to Bristol! Do you have any previous links with the city?
Oh yes, quite a few. Four series of Channel 5’s ‘Teachers’, and at Bristol Old Vic Kwame Kwai Armah’s award winning play ‘A Bitter Herb’.

You’re well known as powerful matriarch Claudette Hubbard in EastEnders, and now playing another in Jenny Davis’s play ‘The Front Room’. Tell us a bit about the play.
The play has echoes of Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’, although it wasn’t written with that in mind.

The Front Room Final Poster(2)It’s set in a Caribbean household, and is about a claustrophobic mother and daughter relationship; the controlling religious mother Ina and her daughter Alecia who lives in a fantasy world. Both women have their own means of shutting out reality and spend days cleaning the front room, in preparation for non existent visitors. The Front Room is the best room of the house, and symbolises the inner sanctum, a threshold which is never crossed, unless invited.

The mother is desperate to keep the world out, but reality encroaches with a crumbling roof, and repairs which force Ina to let the outside world in, in the form of a stranger, an Irishman Fergal. Fergal however threatens to change things forever, unravelling secrets that have been buried and denied. ‘The Front Room’ is about what happens when a relationship with manipulation at its heart is exposed.

Your character marched out of Albert Square in Autumn last year, and you were straight into a major stage role. How was that?
Immediately after ‘EastEnders’ I worked with the fabulous Bonnie Greer and director Femi Elufowojo Jnr . I really enjoyed being back in the theatre, especially as the play was performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East which is among my favourite theatre spaces. The play – ‘The Hotel Cerise’ – was based on Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ but set in the USA at the time of the recent American election; and performed at that exact same time too! It was an amazing experience. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to take a leading role in such a powerful new play. I’ll cherish the wonderful memories we created forever.

What was it like to play Adoha Onyeka, the parishioner and church volunteer with a rather affectionate eye for the vicar in BBC2’s comedy ‘Rev’ ?
I loved working on ‘Rev’, it was such a fun job. The cast and crew got on like a house on fire. Every work day was a joy. When it ended I really missed the team. We really bonded.

What attracted you to take part in a Missing Pieces staged reading?
Missing Pieces is about bringing Black theatre to Bristol, to the regions. Creating the opportunity for audiences to experience a plethora and canon of work, that otherwise would be missed, forgotten, or simply not known about. These are pieces of work that are often not seen enough in the mainstream canon, especially here in the South West. The Staged reading is a chance to hear these scripts, to have them read and brought to life, thanks to professional gifted actors.


Missing Pieces continues our Studio Walkabout Season with support from Bristol Old Vic Literary Department. This month’s performance, The Front Room, opens at The Wardrobe Theatre 6pm, 3 Sep. All Tickets £8.

The Caretaker Rehearsal Diary – Week 3

While The Caretaker rehearsals continue powering ahead, Assistant Director Chino Odimba updates us on the latest rehearsal room antics as the company prepare to take on our powerful adaptation of Pinter’s 20th century masterpiece.


The Caretaker - Rehearsals - Photo by Iona Firouzabadi - 8088.jpg
264 hours left until the show opens…

The sun is blazing outside and the windows are open in the rehearsal room as we get started on another week of rehearsals for The Caretaker.

Now that we have ‘interrogated’ the text, and got the play on its feet, the next phase of the process seems to be about deciding what we’re keeping in the show. The ideas of what motivates a character to do the things they do seem to be all encompassing.

Each scene/moment of the scene is worked through with this in mind. This is a more forensic way of working with the text, but it does start to make the words come alive in a completely new way!

As well as this, we are now at the point of the rehearsal process where the actors want to feel that they have ‘coming off book’ – being able to work without referring to the script. This is one of the things as an Assistant Director that I can help with. I spend an hour or so most days with each of the cast going through their lines – prompting them when they miss something – and discussing the meaning behind why they might be saying something. I thoroughly enjoy working with the cast in this way but I am not sure how much the actors do – there are certainly a few choice words of frustration when they miss a line!

I am always impressed by the craft of remembering lines – especially for a play such as this, which is so wordy and has interesting moments of dialogue, long monologues, and abrupt turns in conversations. I watch in awe as they bring the words to life…

By the end of the week we have got through the end of the play again – with most staging starting to feel set.

We spend an afternoon with a fight director as some moments in the play get quite physical. The movement in these parts of the play has to both be convincing but safe for the cast to play night after night. It all looks very real by the end of the day.

To end the week, the sound designer Elena comes in to record some of the background sounds with the cast and Patrice Naiambana, who is has an impressive array of African drums (and plays them beautifully), records some of the music that will make up some of the music in the show.

As all the various creatives become more involved in what is having in the rehearsal room, it becomes so apparent how collaborative, theatre making is and has to be. It’s a great thing to be a part of!

I have so much more to tell you but in the meantime look out for our Twitter takeover with exclusive images from the rehearsal room!


The Caretaker opens at Bristol Old Vic 9-30 September. For more information and to book tickets, click here.