Our Box Office Supervisor, Charlotte Wood, recently took a moment out of her busy day to share with us how life has changed since going into lockdown.
I’ve been in my post as Box Office Supervisor for the Octagon Theatre and Westlands Entertainment Venue for 3 years, but I am sure that as long as I stay working in the Theatre industry I will never have another day like March 16th.
It had been a standard day at the Octagon, there was a slight air of uncertainty as to what the government would do regarding the Coronavirus outbreak but we followed guidelines and carried on doing the best we could to adhere to that age old theatre adage 'The Show Must Go On!' I left the office at 5pm to go home, I kicked off my shoes and sat on my sofa and before I could so much as put the kettle on I received a phone call from one of the team, ‘I think you need to come back’.
The announcement had been made by the government, advising the general public to stay away from places like theatres to help stop the virus spread and the decision had been made to close both our venues with immediate effect. By the time I got back to the Theatre everyone else had also come back in from home to help in contacting customers, the Dunkirk Spirit was very strong. Within an hour and a half, all customers for that night’s show at the Octagon and the screenings due to happen at Westlands had been contacted and told to stay home, the phone line messages had been changed to inform customers calling in and plans had started to be put in place as to what would happen over the next few weeks.
I must admit when the dust had settled and I had a chance to stop and think as to what had happened, I had a little cry. I’ve been involved in theatre one way or another since I was six years old and the thought of them all closing across the country and no performances happening seemed very scary and very personal. It was a real shock to the system and I’m a firm believer that sometimes a good cry is a wonderful thing for the soul. It’s ok not to be ok.
The next few weeks were interesting to say the least, the team formed a plan of action as to how we would work from home, what was the quickest way to contact customers and who would be in charge of what.
We already had experience of running a Box Office from home from when snow had stopped us getting to the venues previously but this was different in that it would last longer than a couple of days. I set up a corner of the living room as my new office space, somewhere I could step away from at the end of the day to try and keep a separation of work and home life. So far it’s worked really well, I can still keep in touch with others in the team and I am fuelled mostly by tea and biscuits supplied by my lovely fiancé who is currently furloughed.
As time went on and we heard what would happen to more shows due to take place with us in the coming months it was lovely to see so many being rescheduled rather than cancelled outright. It has an air of hope, of something to look forward to, something to help us push through these strange times. I myself am due to take part in two local productions, one in April and one in June, both of which have been rescheduled for a later date and everyone involved has worked so hard to keep these productions alive. The theatre community have really come together whether it’s rehearsing via the internet, streaming past productions or just getting together for a fun quiz night online. The main focus seems to be looking to the future when we can all be together again on stage or in a rehearsal room doing what we love.
I have also been boosted every day from feedback we receive from you, our wonderful customers, who have been so kind and complimentary of the team working hard to keep you informed. It really is a joy to stay in touch with all of you and look forward to the day we can open our venues again.
Whilst in lockdown, as well as my normal duties, I was asked to be involved with South Somerset District Council's Wellbeing Hub which is a scheme set up by the council to provide food parcels and support for the most vulnerable people within our community. People from all across the council were asked to come in to set up an efficient and effective way to get as much support to as many people as quickly as we could. My involvement was to find a way to make our ticketing booking system, Spektrix, work to take food parcel orders. As well as selling parcels we also needed to get any additional information such as dietary requirements or special delivery instructions, as well as figuring out how to pull through the orders for the people in the warehouse at our Westland venue to successfully pick and deliver parcels. I won’t lie, it was a challenge, but a wonderful one, and after a few tweaks and adjustments we now have a working easy to use system and have spent the last six weeks being able to really help the community. I am so proud of all my colleagues at SSDC, the time and effort put in to create something completely new to really benefit those who most need help and support is phenomenal and a real asset to our area.
So, life ticks along and I find I’ve reached a new normal. I work in my makeshift office in the living room, phoning customers, talking to my lovely colleagues, updating systems and running reports and drinking tea. Every so often I go for a walk around Ninesprings Country Park on my lunch break, seeing the ducklings on the lake and getting my daily dose of exercise and fresh air. In the evenings I’ve been doing a 30 day core workout app on my phone, something I would have never have kept up with before lockdown but I’m really noticing a difference, not in my waist line or on the scales (too many lockdown biscuits and cake) but I can now hold a plank (basically a halfway push up where you don’t move) for 50 seconds, I know that doesn’t sound like much but when I started I couldn’t do 5 seconds.
Theatre has always been the binding glue of my life, and I know that is true of many other people and, who knows, perhaps when we can return things might be different but I for one cannot wait to welcome back our wonderful audiences and productions. I think the joy that performance in all its forms brings is never too far away, so join in a zoom singalong, stream a theatre production, watch old DVD’s of past performances and book a ticket for a future show to help keep the Theatre world alive and in those immortal words of Vera Lynn ‘We’ll meet again some sunny day’……..now where’s my biscuit barrel, must be time for a cup of tea.