Ushering in a new theatre
by Andrew Wilson
Celebratory cake served on May 5th 2013, the night of Park Theatre’s “soft opening.” (Photos courtesy Jacki Reason).
What you ask long-time usher Jacki Reason what she remembers of the early days of Park Theatre, she mentions pulling plastic off the new seats – on opening night.
Not the famous opening night of These Shining Lives, the drama that marked the theatre’s formal arrival on the London scene in May 8th 2013, but the “soft opening” a week before.
“That was the 5th of May, and it was a production by Deafinitely Theatre, so it was a mixture of signing and speaking,” she recalls. After the show the cast and staff were treated to a cake made by Jez Bond’s mother Vicky, with Park 200 written in red-and-white icing to match the new theatre’s logo.
“At one point Jez attempted some signing,” she says, laughing. “Luckily the interpreter was there with him, and she hopped up on a chair and translated the rest of what he said. There was such euphoria, after all that last-minute sweeping and setting up and plastic removal before the show.”
Opening night euphoria in the second floor bar: (left to right) signing interpreter, Jez Bond, Jeremy Bond, Vicky Bond, Melli Marie, and Director’s assistant Amy Lumsden.
Jacki first visited Park Theatre in late 2012 during one of its “hardhat tours,” when it was still undergoing its conversion from what had formerly been an office building. She already had a history of cultural volunteering, having helped set up Jackson’s Lane Community (now Arts) Centre in Haringey 42 years ago, and had made a career in the charity and voluntary sectors.
She remembers being excited to have a theatre 15 minutes from her home in Crouch End and put her name down after hearing the call for volunteer ushers. She mentions some of the other original ushers who are still with the theatre.
"Fran, Selena, Vanessa, Marian and Breda – I think they were all there for that pre-opening briefing with Jez and Melli about the role of volunteers. There was no training per se, but we had a walk around the building, and learned the fire exits and safety details, and so on.” The rest was learning on the job – and staying alert.
“When you’re an usher,” she comments, “although you watch the production, you have to listen out for any instructions coming via the radio earpiece, and you are keeping your eyes open to be sure no one’s doing anything they shouldn’t do.”
“One of the early plays that season, Daytona, had an elaborate set with a full bookshelf. Audience members sometimes wandered onstage and picked up the books!”
Five years later, Jacki is still one of the people without whom Park Theatre couldn’t function. She says, “There was a great atmosphere from the beginning, and that has continued. People use the building all the time, to meet, to work, to chat... And it has been a great boon to Finsbury Park, which is completely changed,” she adds. “There was nothing around here back then.”