Way back, many moons ago, when I was at Uni studying Theatre Studies. My Boyfriend worked as a void property worker in Manchester. He worked with a guy who would frequent his local pub each weekend. One particular weekend we were invited to “watch the football” by his friend and reluctantly, I agreed to go.
The pub was in the heart of a notorious area of Manchester. As I walked in, there was an air of suspicion aroused by the locals, which was soon dispelled by my boyfriend’s larger than life mate – let’s call him Jeff.
” It’s ok, they are with me!” he bellowed as he walked over to us, relief flooded me.
At which point, we were welcomed into the fold and offered a drink. I sat amongst Jeff and his friends, nursing my lemonade, as I was offered a range of knock off underwear from La Senza for a fiver, a spliff or two and many more opportunities.
As you can imagine, I was way out of my comfort zone but this community were kind and welcoming. They were eager to find things out about me and being the polite girl that I was, I told them all about my love of the arts, drama and acting and how I wanted to become a drama teacher. As soon as those words fell out of my mouth- one lady , I’m calling her Sue, made a beeline for me.
” Drama teacher you say? My boys into drama big time – he was on Michael Barrymore’s Kids Say The Funniest Things- and their ‘aint nothing round here for him. Do you fancy doing something here for the kids- like a drama school?”
I was speechless…I quickly looked for my boyfriend, who was a few pints in at this time, for help.
” Wow that would be a great idea!” Jeff shouted from across the table. ” We could do a pantomine for the kids- I’d love to get involved!”
The barman’s ears pricked up, ” I’m up for that!” He had a cheeky grin that reminded me of Lee Evans. So there I was, sat in the middle of a run down pub in Manchester, with the spotlight shining down on me, a good thirty or so pairs of eyes burning into me – eagerly waiting for my response.
” Well, ok then…” the words tripping of my tongue unknowingly. Smiles all around…deepest joy!
From that point on, every Sunday, after finishing work as a home-care worker ( my weekend job with a 6:30 am start) I would make the drive to Manchester in my little, gold Nova with my two nieces in tow. I commandeered the writing skills of my mum and we wrote our own version of Cinderella and the rehearsals were underway.
Rehearsals were held in the pub, in the best room. Sometimes the sessions were moved to the function room upstairs, as the best room was a crime scene and was temporarily out of bounds- but that didn’t phase us. We were putting on a show! For the community, for the people of this part of the city who wanted to do something incredible.
The kids and adults that turned up each week were amazing and every session was filled with laughter and excitement. This brought me great Joy. The relationships I built in the group and the rapport was incredible. I was earning the respect of this community and that in itself was an amazing feeling. See when you give something, you feel great. It’s a reward like no other.
The night of the show arrived, all the tickets were sold and the room was packed! It was the most incredible nights of my life. Totally amazing and I was so proud of each and everyone of them. Seeing people smiling, having so much fun and bringing a community together superseded anything that I had ever experienced before. The owner of the pub was impressed, a bit of a renowned character, who quite literally scared me to death had beckoned me over and personally thanked me for putting the show on. He promptly asked me for the ticket money and was on his way. His joy was misplaced. Did he not see what I and the hundred or so people had seen just ten minutes before?
That taught me a very valuable lesson. Joy is personal. It can be misplaced when in conjunction with other character traits. What someone takes great pleasure in, can be overlooked by another, but that never stopped me rejoicing in my own joy. Nor did it stop me giving joy to others.
That was over twenty years ago now…but even now, looking back on it, I’m still smiling, it still makes me realise how privileged I was. That experience has stayed with me throughout my teaching career. It taught me so much about getting the best out of people and building their confidence. Joy is definitely in the giving.