20 Years at The Lowry with Diana Matthews-Gentle

Hi my name is Diana, I am a Deputy House Manager at The Lowry and this year 2020, I celebrated my 20th year anniversary on the 14th April.

I remember the day that I started. Arriving at the stage door I was taken to what was then called the Boot Room, to be kitted out in wellies, a high-vis waistcoat and hardhat!

The building was two weeks away from opening and there were lots of things to see, learn and do.

I knew from the first day that my path was going to be interesting and that I was at the start of an amazing journey with The Lowry.

It was so exciting to be part of the team and together building and developing the FOH department; meeting the new volunteers (VIPs), getting to know the other departments and teams within, and learning the ropes!

Initially all of the departments were located in the main admin office, which was open plan. The FOH team, were naturally sitting next to the Technical team, we had one computer and a peace lily – they had show information and gaffer tape!

Some of the most amazing shows stay in my memory; Paris Opera Ballet, for the shear scale, Kabuki, for transporting us all to a different place and time, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s, Swan Lake, for its beauty and precision.  There were the shows that required some audience participation: Slava’s Snow Show, for the reaction of the audience, the first Sing-along-a-sound-of-music and the imaginative way that the audience dressed up. Even for one family being piped into the foyer by the father dressed as Captain von Trapp. The next day we found many things including a goat made out of sticks and some brown paper packages tied up with string!

I loved the shows that brought full houses night after night; War Horse, White Christmas, any of the Matthew Bourne, New Adventures. And more recently Six, surprising us all and leaving our teenagers exhausted from the excitement. We had shows that that had strict latecomers policies were difficult to pronounce or had challenging special effects; but they managed to make us laugh, cry, sit on the edge of our seats and give standing ovations.

The shows like The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, part of Manchester International Festival, made us all feel a little avant-garde and The Ring Cycle – tested our stamina.

It hasn’t all been about the big name shows. There have been plenty of small scale performances with just a few simple props, delivered in another language, staged from an unusual perspective or now with technology able to create a digital back drop. Some shows just have the ability to tap into our imagination with very little staging, their shear brilliance, transporting the audience.  For me, the one that was able to do just this was Beauty and the Beast, performed by Teatro Kismet. It was dark, atmospheric and magical.

With the shows come extras; pre- show talks, post show talks, meet and greet, audio descriptions, touch tours, signed contemporary dance performances! (I think that Rambert did this), page to stage for schools and schools arriving en masse, only to be organised and shaped into the theatre space, expected to sit quietly throughout…

People often ask me if I have seen the show, quite often I haven’t but I haven’t exactly missed out either, I have seen the work that goes on behind the scenes, the rehearsals, the notes, and people behind the shows, the actors preparing to perform and after the show making their way back to their dressing room after the last member of audience has left.

I have dealt with lost property – anything from car keys, mobile phones, wet swimming costumes, to lost children, lost husbands, lost teeth and of course lost programmes!

In my role, I have looked after, guide dogs, half eaten pizzas and bottles of wine, balloons and parents patiently waiting. I have mended, shoes, belts and once found myself sewing the mother of the bride into her evening dress all before the interval!

In times of crisis, I have stayed calm, quietly listened, made decisions and taken position, hoping that my best is enough.

Our relationships have changed with our visiting companies and audiences as we have got to know them and they have found their comfortable place within The Lowry.

There are special people, some have moved on and others are sadly no longer with us, they played their part and added to the history and story of The Lowry, as we all will.

There are so many shows and really special events that I have not mentioned but will let you remember these as your memories, they are not forgotten with the glitter and sparkle that they have brought. But for now, I look forward to the future and what The Lowry will offer to us all. Maybe return visits by some of my favorite companies or the shows with emotional attachments whichever way they arrive and whatever shape they take, I know that I want to be there to play my part, so that they can play theirs. See you soon!

Diana Matthews-Gentle