Master of Ceremonies

I’m at the bar at The Swan after work waiting and I hit a casual conversation. I tell him I’ve been working an event. Turns out he’s a director upstairs or somesuch based on how people were talking to him. He is endowed with importance. I probably should recognise him but I don’t. He’s rightheaded though, and seems kind. I like him.

“Do you work for The Globe?” He asks. “No,” I respond, thankfully, because I haven’t realised that the question is loaded. “Technically I don’t. I work for The Swan. That’s the corporate wing.” I often say I work for The Globe on this blog, because I do as far as I’m concerned – the money goes into that remarkable building – but there is an enforced separation. We aren’t allowed to wear Shakespearean costume lest we be mistaken for “real” actors. I can see the (bad) thinking that gave rise to this, even if it pisses me off when I think about it.

Dinner entertainment rarely if ever aligns with deep integrity, frankly. I did a musical recently that was rehearsed carefully and diligently for weeks, ahead of a one night performance at a huge charity dinner. The diners drowned the whole damn thing out by behaving like someone had left the telly on while they were having the annual family shout-off. Thankfully the actors were diligent and confident enough, and well enough prepared, to continue to work hard for the three people who appreciated the depth of their work. But the whole of the creative team was upset afterwards.

I often frame dinner entertainment as deliberately broad and bawdy. If you satisfy the groundlings “who for the most part are incapable of anything other than inexplicable dumbshow and noise” that they will understand it and be entertained they will be less inclined to disrupt the quieter and more landed moments when you choose to make them.

We forget that Shakespeare wrote as much for the pit as he did for his sponsors. But it’s what made him endure. Marlowe wrote beautifully for the nobs. Jonson wrote glory for the pit. Will did both, with confidence and wit. He managed to balance the knife and write for the bigwigs as well as the bogwags. The work we do downstairs at The Globe for dinners – it errs on the side of pit. But we’ve arrived at it over years of experimentation and when people are drunk at a party and think they hate Shakespeare, delicacy is only going to be mistaken for self-importance. We are still refining, experimenting and changing. I rarely if ever do the same collection of material – we tailor to the client. Like everything I do, I want very much to try to do it brilliantly…

This evening the client met me before the event. “We normally pay a traditional toastmaster, but you came as part of the package so we thought we’d try it. “You’ve done well. I’m a toastmaster,” I tell them. Because I might as well be with the experience I’ve had on the job, especially considering some of the mumbly sweaty old gits I’ve witnessed over the years. I think there’s a formal place, like Mensa, where you pay to say you’re a Toastmaster, and get a newsletter. I’m leery of it. Mensa is the most wonderful example of self-negation. “Congratulations. You’re intelligent. Pay a monthly fee into this bank account and we will put you on the intelligent list and send you stuff occasionally that tells you how clever you are, well done.” It’s like the last part of the IQ test. Sign up and you might as well not have taken the test in the first place.

My duties tonight were the deep formal kind. Old school trad stuff. Fascinating and a delight to dip into. Next time I’ll do it even better but I did it well. Introducing all of the guests by name so the important people can welcome them without awkwardness. Knowing their title without them telling me from a brief and adding it. (I got them all but one. The OBE came through in a very busy patch. The MBE was momentarily gobsmacked.) But you know the voice. “Mermuna merma, MBE, splurbithets.” There were hundreds of them. “See if you can sneak through some celebrity names without them noticing,” says the President of the company. He’s enjoying himself. Some of them hit me with “Mike Hunt” and “Ivor Bigwan” etc. It’s fun pretending I’m negotiating rapids, lingering on that “H” in “Hunt” or loading the emphasis on the “wan”. Like I might dissolve if I inadvertently say something rude.

It’s a long event and I’m rarely off duty. If I’m not acting with the other actors I’m actively running logistics and informing people what’s going to happen and keeping abreast of timings. I even end up reassuring the big boss who is nervous before his big speech. “This is what they’ve come for!” “You’re very nice to say it.” I’m introducing the speakers, praying I can remember the name of their company correctly as, if I can’t, I’m the only one in the room. I’m even making up bits of Shakespearealike to bring them in. “Kind follows kind, and greatness after greatness” I find myself saying with absolute certainty before one of the speakers. It’s from The Merry King of Tyre, Act 2 Scene 3. “What an introduction,” he says to me afterwards. Lol.

I do a “Loyal Toast”. I get everybody upstanding and silent. Then I say “The Queen” and 300 people respond “The Queen.” My trousers have popped their button. As I stand there I feel the safety pin go too. They stay up, despite the brief opportunity for a perfect disaster of my trousers dropping as they toast the Queen

I use the silence and reverence to prompt them into giving to charity despite my trousers. They’ve all got envelopes. I hope they give generously. If they do I’ll make some money this time next year somewhere, and cancer patients will have a much better quality of life.

We do well. It’s a good event. I’ve got this down now, just in time to go off and be unavailable because I’m doing six months of acting. Still, with this and the van driving, the old “fallback” my parents were obsessing about is manifesting. Even if it isn’t quitting the acting entirely and becoming a barrister like they hoped…

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Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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