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‘We Just Love It’ Say Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Volunteers

Published on: 21 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 25 Oct, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

There is often some reticence with interviewees, maybe nerves about saying the wrong thing or being in the public eye. But meeting Yvonne Arnaud Theatre volunteers was different.

And the reason for this difference is that the enthusiastic bunch who came to the theatre to talk to The Dragon were talking about something they just loved doing, volunteering at their local theatre.

Yvonne Arnaud volunteers give an enthusiastic shout-out for their theatre. From left: Pauline Read, Kim Horwood, Alan Wyle, deputy front of house manager and volunteer co-ordination Caroline Albrectsen, Jan Lofthouse, Mark Flynn and Sharon Harrison.

They were a jolly group to chat to, keen to tell their tales, pose for photos and talk about what they see as a marvellous part of their lives.

They help the public and that’s important, as well as seeing the shows for free. Meeting the stars also is a big draw.

Patrick Duffy, aka Bobby Ewing from the hit show Dallas, “grabbed” by Jan Lofthouse for a photo at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

Volunteer Jan Lofthouse was on ‘meet and greet’ when to her delight, she met Patrick Duffy, also known as Bobby Ewing from Dallas. She was “thrilled to meet JR’s brother” but it was more than that.

To encouraging laughs from her volunteer colleagues, she said: “I loved the play, the acting. But most of all, I loved him, he was just fantastic. I grabbed him to get him to pose in front of the posters.”

Mark Flynn said: “Being part of the volunteer team was the best thing I ever did. It’s a privilege to work here.”

Sharon Harrison said: “It’s like a family. We don’t see everybody all of the time but we now meet an hour beforehand to chat.

“I refer to this as my work, I do two or three shifts each week, about three hours each.”

Alan Wyle said it makes going to the theatre so much more interesting. He said: “I feel I am part of the town, contributing. I did last year’s panto 22 times. It is such fun.”

Legend among the volunteers is Pauline Read. She was an usher at the theatre for 14 years before she became a volunteer. She said she started in amateur dramatics about 50 years ago.

She said: “It’s in the blood. My favourite thing is the ‘relaxed performance’ for young people and those with learning difficulties. Parents love it. I am a plant at pantos so I always get picked on at the shows. It is great fun.”

She gets as many of the stars as she can to sign a flyer from all the shows. she said: “I have pile of autographed flyers a foot high. My most famous signature is Brian May from Queen.”

Caroline Albrectsen leads a training meeting for the volunteers in the theatre.

And keeping it all together in a firm but friendly way is Caroline Albrectsen’s job. She is the deputy front-of-house manager and the volunteer coordinator. She said there were about 30 staff at the theatre and around 100 volunteers.

“Post Covid” she said, “the theatre was struggling. Getting volunteer help was part of the way we bounced back. Initially, it was about saving money but there have been unexpected benefits. The volunteers are all local, know the Yvonne Arnaud as customers and just love it. It’s not just a job, they all want to be here.

“The volunteers help us so much, they greet the theatregoers in an enthusiastic and authentic way.”

The success of the volunteer scheme so far means the theatre is not currently taking on new members, a testament to the theatre as well as the staying power of those taking part.

Volunteers at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre point to the volunteer coordinator, Caroline Albrectsen.

And, it’s not just the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre that benefits; there’s meeting fellow volunteers and the public and being part of the team. And of course seeing the shows for free, in a good seat, is a must.

The volunteers are trained as well. Caroline added: “We did an evacuation [of the theatre] last year as a drill at one of our own shows. It went really well. We evacuated about 400 people in about four minutes. It gave us a lot of confidence and the volunteers played their vital part.”

Final words go to the volunteers. They say: “If you don’t like people, you don’t work here.

“If you have free time and love the theatre, the staff here will make sure you have a wonderful time.

“We are privileged to get to see the shows and such a variety of plays.”

And lastly, from a very cheeky Alan Wyle, “No more volunteers please as I would get less chance to see the shows I love.”

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