In November 1977, the day after the 1977 Opera Festival, I took up a job in Whites Hotel. For almost 20 years, I found myself immersed in what is now an internationally renowned cultural miracle. My employer, the late Ann Small, was the daughter of a co-founder (Mr Eugene Mc Carthy) with Dr Tom Walsh of the Wexford Festival Opera. Her hotel had been the epicentre of all things “Festival Opera “since its inception. For many years, all the Festival Opera Board meetings were held in Whites Hotel
Retiring from Whites in 1996, I felt as if I had been an accidental volunteer all that time. I soon missed the Festival buzz and so sought out my former neighbour and renowned Festival Chairman, the late Jim Golden, in search of a job. I thought that perhaps I could run messages or something.” Can you drive? “Said he. “Yes “says I and so began another 20-year stint as I slowly added Front of House, Hospitality team and Opera House Tour Guiding to my duties. The duties of a festival driver, apart from the obvious, are many. Using one of a fleet of sponsored cars, it is your job to meet, greet and say farewell to a wide variety of interesting people: singers, conductors, journalists, VIPs, etc. etc. Most of these journeys are to and from Dublin Airport. So, it’s all about hellos, goodbyes, and hope to see you back in Wexford very soon. A two-hour road trip provides for some very interesting conversations and countless opportunities to promote Wexford to people from all over the world.
Being on the front of House team allows you to experience, sometimes several times what the patron enjoys, namely an annual treat of top-class opera as well as the fun of being part of a diverse group of volunteers committed to the safety and enjoyment of the audience. For three years I had the privilege of being Front of House Manager during which I made many friends. I hope and learned a great deal about the day-to-day workings of the Opera House. Becoming familiar with the layout of the “New House “as it was termed for a while led me to becoming an Opera House Guide. Three and a half times the size of the “Old House”, a tour guide needs to be someone who won’t or at least won’t give the impression that he or she isn’t lost as they navigate their way around this wonderful building with its 390 doors…. and that’s just the doors. Wexford Volunteer Guides are visibly proud as they show OUR National Opera House to members of the public.
A stint in the Hospitality Lounge during festival shows us volunteers how important our little contribution can be to the overall success of Wexford Festival Opera. Wexford provides an experience for Opera lovers that is unique. Not only does it produce wonderful opera, but it also offers a very tangible human experience to the visitor, be they first timers or annual regulars. It’s that smile of recognition or word of welcome that says it all. For us volunteers every contact however small with any of our visiting patrons is an opportunity to improve that experience for them.
It has been an honour to serve with so many wonderful people. As an old timer I am looking forward to number 70.
Roll on all those new volunteers. I hope they will be as hooked as I was. Let’s start talking about Number 100.