I went to the theatre last week to see some new opera. I didn’t really enjoy it. To me, the most epic and universal human drama came at the end of the evening when the theatre staff were ushering out the last remaining members of the (extremely small) audience.
A man I assume to have been homeless was standing square in front of the last door to be locked. The staff had been swift in closing up the rest of the theatre while the last audience members were waiting to leave.
“Could I trouble you for some change, please, ladies and gentlemen?”
“Have a lovely evening folks”
Though he wasn’t having much luck soliciting change out of any of us, he was remaining polite and standing his ground against what was definitely the opposite of a tide of contemporary opera-goers.
Then came this: “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoyed your picture.”
To the last and most senior theatre usher who pointedly stepped out into the street to close the final door on the last opera-goer, almost stepping on the man in her efforts to pretend that he wasn’t there, this final intrusion upon her theatre was too much.
“These good people were not at a film – they were at an opera!”
There were more than a few smirks from the last people gathered under the glass canopy waiting for taxis home, or planning where to have their post-show glass of something. Still don’t know whether they were for him or for her.
What a vivid tableau of the traditional perception of the division between those who attend arts events like the opera with those that don’t. I’ve spent a large part of my working life trying to persuade myself and others that that stereotype isn’t really true. Now I’m not so sure.
I’ve always got a bit of guilt about spending time and money on the theatre, or music, or exhibitions, which can sometimes feel a bit pointless when compared with things that people really need to actually keep on living, or the time that could be spent helping to make others’ lives a little better.
I was lucky enough not to have paid for my ticket that evening, a treat from a friend. Happily, due to my line of work, I often find myself enjoying the arts events that I love as someone’s guest. As a result of last week’s and as a poor attempt to dull my middle-class guilt, from now on whenever I’m lucky enough to attend an event on a freebie, I’ll be making a donation to Shelter Scotland http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/donate
**UPDATE** Thanks to Birmingham Rep’s Clare Lovell (@clarelovell)
for making the incredibly obvious link that I should have made in the first place to the work of Streetwise Opera http://www.streetwiseopera.org/