Festival Diary: A Hive of Activity

In my diary entry last week, I noted that the month of August was “the calm before the storm”. I made that flippant remark in the ease of summer, blissfully unaware of what was to come. Now that we’re in September, to say office work has intensified is a gross understatement.


Festival Diary: A Hive of Activity

The Opera House is a completely different place now. That’s far from a bad thing, of course. In fact, there is a bit more of an exciting buzz around the place. When I came to work last Tuesday morning, I was a little awestruck at all that running to and fro, the constant ringing of phones and brief meetings in the corridor. Perhaps I’m still getting used to office life, but I felt like I was in The West Wing.

In the midst of all that activity, I think it’s important to highlight what we were focusing on last week. It started on Friday, 30th August, when Wexford Festival Opera held a barbecue for its team of Festival Volunteers. It’s an annual gathering for the people in Wexford who actively and generously give their time to the festival each year.

Wexford Festival Opera was founded back in 1951, thanks to the hard work and devotion of a small group of volunteers. More than six decades on, more than 300 people volunteer during the festival each year – be it working in Front of House or the Green Room, selling programmes, or looking after the cloakroom or the bar. Many of the Volunteers continue throughout the year, looking after events hosted in the Opera House. The Volunteer force attracts people of all ages, backgrounds and trades – from students to shop owners, managers to musicians.

I’ve probably mentioned in previous articles that I’ve worked as a volunteer for Wexford Festival Opera since I was a teenager. I hope all this Volunteer-praising doesn’t come across as proud or egotistical. It shouldn’t, because I certainly wasn’t one of the best Volunteers. I worked in the cloakroom and did my bit, but I know a lot more people have regularly gone above and beyond the call of duty for the festival.

Betty O’Brien has been working as a Volunteer with Wexford Festival Opera for the past 46 years. She started working as a seamstress in the wardrobe department, but over the years she has also worked in Front of House and with the Friends of the festival. Betty also sang with the Wexford Festival Singers. She told me that she has always been passionate not just about the festival, but also about the Volunteers play every year.

“It’s always been pointed out that, without the Volunteers, the festival wouldn’t survive,” she added. “Maybe there’s a kind of pride in that as well, to know that you have contributed to that aspect of Wexford Festival, to bringing the town on, and getting to know people.”

“You meet the same people, year in year out, and no matter what age they are, you recognise them,” she said.

You may have heard our chairman, Ger Lawlor, speaking to Alan Corcoran on South East Radio about a special award for Volunteers last week. The Wexford Festival Opera/Zurich Volunteers Award seeks to recognise one Volunteer who has truly given the festival their all. Last year, Vivian Crofton won the award for his work backstage over the past 40 years.

Until 20th October, anyone can nominate a Volunteer to receive the award – either online on the website wexfordopera.com, or by visiting the box office of Wexford Opera House. The winning Volunteer will be presented with the prize on the 22nd October, just before the public dress rehearsal of Cristina, Regina di Svezia.

If you are interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of the festival, there has never been a better time to be working in Wexford Opera House. If you’d like to get involved as a Volunteer, you can register by e-mailing volunteers@wexfordopera.com by Friday 13th September. If you prefer to see the finished product on stage, make sure you get your tickets before they’re gone. Visit wexfordopera.com or the Opera House box office to make your booking.

Just last week, the Festival crew arrived to help put the finishing touches on this year’s sets and scenery. This week, Wexford Festival Opera will head to Dublin for the first of the In Conversation series for festival Friends. Entitled ‘A Director’s View’, directors of this year’s ShortWorks Conor Hanratty and Sophie Motley will present it on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Technical Director David Stuttard will reveal how sets for operas are created in Wexford Opera House on Thursday.

This weekend, the Wexford Festival Opera chorus is set to arrive. From then on, an intense schedule of preparation, rehearsals and other activities will take shape. Let the fun begin.