A foot in the (stage) door: A Peter Pan love story

My week of daily blogs is nearly over and this series is coming to an end… for now. So many people have shown their interest in writing a post for the blog so if it all goes to plan, you will start reading some incredible insights into the world of theatre from other professionals very soon. And remember, if you want to share your story or you have some inside information you would like to offer then please get in touch.

Since it’s Friday and there’s still no formal structure for these daily blogs, I thought I would go down a slightly different route. A little more relaxed. Probably less educational than the previous insights but a story worth sharing none the less, and an insight into the immersive industry of theatre… I may even take a more narrative approach.

This story goes back to just over 8 years, I’m 22 years old. My life revolves around working at the Theatre Royal as deputy stage manager. It was midway through our autumn/winter season and the venue was busy. Good busy, not excessive. The team was great at this point, probably not the strongest team in terms of technical ability but we got on really well and enjoyed our work. The team consisted of our stage manager, two casual crew members and me. We had a laugh, which is important. I enjoyed a strong social life that primarily came from the theatre. It was great.

I still lived with my parents at this point and had the opportunity to move into a spare bedroom which belonged to the theatre royal’s costume designer, Amy. Amy was an amazing person and still to this day one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of working with. Amy spent that season with family back home and so I found myself in the flat alone. Which was good to start with, but for someone who enjoyed to socialise, this soon started to feel pretty isolating.

The pantomime tech happened, the show opened and Peter Pan was in full swing. The company were fantastic and everyone got on incredibly. I was still head flyman at this point and also in charge of flying both Peter and Wendy during the show.

The Theatre Royal Lincoln (now the New Theatre Royal Lincoln) was the favourite venue for a huge amount of visitors. I believe that Eric Sykes quotes in one of his books that Lincoln was his favourite theatre on the circuit, our bar was even named the Eric Syke’s bar. And I believe he donated a grand piano to the venue too.

The theatre has a little under 500 seats, so it’s by no means big. But it’s overflowing with character. The green room and its table are some of its most famous characteristics. I have found that a large number of theatres have a green room but that green room may be the other side of the venue or on the third floor. For those that don’t know, a green room is best described as a social room for the cast and company, a home away from home. Other venues will likely have a separate crew room too. So the cast and crew rarely mixed and the green room would be empty. Not the Theatre Royal though, the green room was for the cast and crew, and located just 10 paces from the stage. This resulted in everyone congregating in the green room and companies quickly became friends (seasonal friends at least). As the pantomime began, I suddenly felt the impact of going from a thriving theatre to a flat on my own.

I remember one moment stood on stage before a show where I began to chat to one of the dancers. She had visited previously but we hadn’t really got to know each other, she had been acting ASM and pretty bad at the ASM bit. He name was Victoria. She was beautiful but I thought nothing of our little interaction, I would have been punching above my weight. Well, that was until she used the line: “I had a dream about you last night.” If anyone uses that line on you; they like you and want you to know it.

Christmas Eve approached and I thought I’d do a romantic little gesture. I placed a rose on her car with a Christmas card. Then she travelled home for Christmas. Doing this had the same effect on her as her dream line had on me.

Gradually, as the pantomime continued, we grew closer. She was funny, clever and beautiful.

The week after Christmas is always magical at a pantomime. Peter Pan was a great show, everyone was settled in and the company were in the spirit of Christmas.

New Year’s Eve and the two shows down. I had asked Victoria not to rush off. I had a little surprise for her before she went back home for new year celebrations. The theatre is built on a hill and few people had the privilege of knowing about a little flat roof high above the auditorium which overlooks the city. I had a blanket, bottle of wine and two glasses waiting. Ladies and gentle, I would like to introduce…my romantic side. The sun had set and the weather was turning bitter, so I put my arm and the blanket around Victoria’s shoulders and we gazed at the city and skyline.

The final day of pantomime came and the difference in me was huge. I think I had fallen in love.

This is certainly not an uncommon occurrence in the theatre world. The theatre welcomes shows in and shows move on, but pantomime is an entity of its own. Six or more weeks of working and socialising together at the best time of year. There’s nothing like it for the venue technician, we didn’t get to work with anyone else for long enough to establish that connection outside of pantomime. There were a few exemptions to this rule in our self-produced productions; such as Oliver! And Return to the Forbidden Planet, two of my personal favourites.

Pantomime was over the bubble burst. Back to the real world.

I didn’t see an awful lot of Victoria but we spoke a lot. I didn’t want the pantomime bubble to end, so I arranged to meet her after work at the theatre-royal on Valentine’s Day.

By the way, if you don’t like romantic gestures; don’t read on!

I wanted to impress. It was Valentine’s Day and at this stage, we had hit a crossroads as to whether or not to become an item or see if fade out.

Victoria arrived at the theatre and climbed the stairs to the green room. There was no sign of me but on the table lay an assortment of items. A £5 note, 2p coin, a rose, a message and a Peter Pan style treasure map. Victoria read the note which gave her a clue as to where to go to next. She opened the map to see a journey planned out. The note said to take the items and follow the map.

The journey took her up the infamous steep hill of Lincoln and to a boutique chocolate shop called the Chocolaterie. She had no idea what to do next until a woman’s voice asked: “are you Victoria”? “Yes”, she replied nervously. The shop owner handed Victoria a box of chocolates and on it sat another message and a rose. Victoria read the clue and off she ventured. The clue said to use the £5 note to pay entry to the castle gates at the top of steep hill. She managed to get in free, I’m still waiting for that £5 back.

The clue directed Victoria to an old wishing well within the castle grounds. On the wishing well sat another note and a rose. The note gave another clue and asked that she throw the 2p into the well.

Victoria was directed to climb to the top of the observatory tower. Well, she should have been… but I got my tower names wrong and she ended up in Lucy tower, the castle keep, beautifully decorated with grave stones. She eventually got back on track and climbed the multitude of steps to the top of the tower. A rose and a note awaited her. As she read the note, I appeared behind her. I like to think this was like Noah Calhoun in The Notebook. That’s how I remember it anyway. It just needed a boat, rain and swans.

After Victoria’s workout of climbing steep hill and two castle towers, I figured dinner would be nice. We went to a little Mexican restaurant for a romantic meal. So why on earth she ordered tacos I’ll never know. She elegantly bit into her first taco and crack… she shared the contents with her chin, the table and the floor. But we had a laugh.

After the meal, I walked her from the restaurant and we got into my car. There was one more note and rose… oh, and a blindfold. Keen or what?

It wasn’t long before I guided her from the car and asked her to remove the blindfold. It was now late evening and we were stood beside a small wooden summerhouse lit with candles. She smiled and then turned her head to see she was standing in a large garden with a bank that ran down towards a lake. At the edge of the lake sat a small row boat. We climbed in and I rowed the lantern lit boat to the centre of the large lake and we sat beneath the stars. We opened a bottle of champagne and just floated. Eventually, once a chill set in, I rowed us back to shore where we shared a glass of champagne in the summer house. I was waiting for the rain and swans… but still no sign.

The date came to an end.

It was an amazing evening. I went on to marry this beautiful lady.

Over the course of 10 weeks working in that theatre, I went from feeling isolated to in love, and it’s all thanks to the Peter Pan pantomime. The following year and we worked on the pantomime together again. Christmas Eve came and I proposed. Two years later we were married. A year after this, I was now venue technical manager and even more inspired by the venue. Victoria choreographed the pantomime, she  was 9 months pregnant with our first child.

That theatre has just been taken over by new owners and a new lease of life injected into it. It is great to see. Stories of people’s connections to the venue fill social media as the venue advertises its overdue improvements. It is great to see how the venue has touched so many people over the years, both in the local community and on a national scale. I worked there for 10 years and literally built my family around it, in it and through it. Without theatre, without that inexplainable connection it has with people, my life would be a very different picture.

I have since moved on from the Theatre Royal to my current venue, which ticks all the right boxes for me in my life now. But I have a great deal to thank that old theatre for and a connection with it that will last until the day I die. As we approach the pantomime season, the memories of my first decade in the industry come rushing back.

Theatre to most is more than a job; it’s a life-long connection.

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