Backstage at The Lowry: Janice Orchard, VIP


Believe it or not, there are about 250 VIPs at The Lowry – that’s Volunteer Involvement Programme as well as being Very Important People, without whom the theatres could not operate.  The Volunteer Programme won The Queen’s Award for Volunteers in 2015  – a great honour when representatives of the volunteers went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

We meet and greet people when they come into The Lowry for shows.  We work as ushers on the doors, sell programmes, run the cloakroom (looking after buggies, coats, parcels, packages and the odd bicycle) and even take guide dogs for a walk before the show.

The VIP’s most important attribute is to really like people and be committed to making sure they have an enjoyable and trouble free visit.   The second is knowing where all the theatre doors are, particularly in the Lyric theatre.  With fourteen theatre entrance doors and several “secret” doors to remember, it’s easy to get confused particularly if the tickets haven’t got the door number on.  Getting the know the layout of the building and which block the seats are in is crucial.

VIPs also learn a new language, that of the Theatre.  The fly tower, the treads, the wings and the iron all slip off the tongue after a few weeks.  Also, never whistle during a performance.  Everyone on stage will duck!  In the early days of the theatre, “stage hands” had often been in the Merchant Navy and communicated by whistling if scenery was being moved.

And the shows are fantastic.  The Lowry must have one of the biggest choices of shows of any theatre in the country.  Being blessed with three performing spaces – the Lyric (1700 seats), the Quays (480 seats) and the Aldridge Studio (180 seats) means we can accommodate virtually any show from comedians to grand opera, from contemporary dance to classical ballet, drama, children’s shows, talk shows, circus, magicians, physical theatre, musicals, Shakespeare.  The list is endless.  My favourites – Carlos Acosta, anything by Matthew Bourne, Peppa Pig, Les Miserables, One Man – Two Guvs.  The list could go on and on.

It’s amazing how many people have heard of The Lowry.  That gives me a real buzz to be volunteering in a place that is so well-known.  In the last month or so, I’ve met (on holiday in Uzbekistan) people who live in London, Leamington Spa and Cheltenham who know of our theatres and the art gallery.  Two of them are coming to visit the gallery.  A friend of a friend in the East End of London has been to see the gallery, and a man I sat next to on a number 10 bus between Euston and Hammersmith in London had been to the theatre.  For some of the big shows, people come from miles away – from Newcastle to see “War Horse”, from Dublin to see “Wicked”, from Hull to see anything by Matthew Bourne, from Carlisle to see “The Curious Incident” and from all over the country to see Opera North.

I’ve been a VIP now for about 12 years but it still gives me a thrill to walk in through Stage Door and hearing the Stage Manager calling “Beginners” in the Village.  The smell of the greasepaint – the roar of the crowd …

Written by Janice Orchard, VIP at The Lowry