Clive Carr, one of our many essential volunteers, writes about his ‘Damn Cheek experience’ supporting The Causeway in summer 2022.

Let’s start – but at the end first. What have I got from being a volunteer with a professional, touring theatre company that specialises in inclusive, community-based theatre? That’s easy to answer: loads!

Working with Damn Cheek, I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I would or could do. I’ve met and spoken with a diverse group of people new to me. Discovered in myself a tolerance I never knew I had. Got rid of quite a few preconceived views. Oh, and helped build a theatre set entirely made of cardboard (more on that later).

That’s what I’ve got – but how did I get here?

Spin back in time to early 2021 and an email from the Gateshead volunteering coordinator looking for volunteers to do a variety of theatre roles at a production later that year. The theatre company is Damn Cheek and the production is a play called Passion for the Planet. Yes, I like theatre, know people in theatre, have tried writing, and failed. I’ve never actually understood the ‘nuts and bolts’, so, yep, I’ll give that a little go – a bit of front of house, maybe help move a few props.

I suppose it’s helpful to tell you what ‘drives’ me to volunteer in the first place. I was lucky in as much as I was able to retire early. But I’ve never been the sort of person to sit reading the newspaper dressed in a cardigan and wine-red cords. I like doing different stuff. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, emails are sent to Damn Cheek and I discover I have my jobs in Passion for the Planet. Excellent! I’ll meet a few new people and learn stuff.

BANG! My world is shot down – temporarily, as it turns out – when I wake up and can hardly see. So, no front of house stuff, no moving a few props. I get better, but it takes quite a few months. Damn Cheek is nothing but a fading memory. But it’s not like I actually got started, and the only contact was a few odd emails from a guy called Darren…

Then – out of the blue in December 2021 – comes another email from Darren. “Do you want to be on a steering group for our next project? It’ll be in summer 2022, and it’s called The Causeway. If you’re up for it, we’ve got a Zoom meeting next week.”

I’m not sure. Definitely not sure. But one Zoom meeting can’t hurt and the guy has remembered me…

Now I’m not good with the IT stuff and a Zoom meeting just about hits my limits. But a little bit of swearing and I’m there, looking at various new faces. I’ll just keep my gob shut. And listen. And hide.

It turns out that Damn Cheek steering group Zooms have a maximum of 7 people. A couple of vicars (see preconceived views), a mix of ragtag theatre types, and someone called William who is actually from Felling, Gateshead. And lots of questions and answers with a few (make that numerous) requests thrown in. Hard to hide.

It’s okay – interesting, in fact – and I might just get to do some stuff. I’ll go one more time and see.

Since then – early 2022 – I’ve done a Zoom nearly every fortnight.

And I’m unable to hide. And/or keep my gob shut. And the requests keep on coming.

At first I ‘volunteer’ for the role as assistant to the person doing publicity and media – unforeseen events quickly take over and I’m given my own personal media department. It turns out I actually know more media people than I thought and those I don’t know I manage to either annoy or become best buddies with.

Then the word ‘finance’ keeps being mentioned. And if The Causeway is to get off the ground, money is needed – and lots of it. Surely – or at least I thought – raising money cannot be that hard. My first idea results in £1,000. Easy. (That’s the last ‘grant’ I can claim part of. But let’s not be downhearted – there are other things.)

A request for music comes and goes, giving me the opportunity to speak to some of the North East’s better-known musicians. At this point I’ll refer back to my comment about annoying people or becoming best buddies with them. Unfortunately, I don’t get much in the way of music…

As this ‘experience’ unfolds I get my thinking cap on and try others who might help. I was all about actually meeting new people. Because when you have a reason, it’s so much easier than simply saying ‘hello’ to someone you’ve never seen before. So, I become quite adept at walking up to ‘media people’ and speaking as if we had previously met!

One important point is that throughout all of this I get support from Damn Cheek. I may be in new territory stumbling around like a constipated crab on steroids, but my efforts are acknowledged and appreciated. Yes, there are frustrations, and not everything goes to plan (or, on occasions, even near to plan), but as time progresses, I feel I sort of belong.

So, The Causeway comes and goes. I could write quite a few words about the 3 weeks of rehearsals and performance with Darren (Director), Chris (Designer) and Shane (Stage Manager). But I will stick with 2 stories.

First story: I meet Shane on day one of the rehearsals – young, obviously talented, knows what he’s doing, busily trying to make a name for himself (and succeeding), but very shy and quiet. Let’s be clear here: I’m pushing 70, can be loud and am not afraid to express opinions. But 3 weeks later, it’s Shane who’s mischievously planning to ‘sabotage’ a small part of the show by throwing approximately 200 balls over Darren and the actors, and it’s me who’s getting instructions on how to throw the balls. I’m clearly not the only one who’s learning, growing and getting LOADS from being part of the Damn Cheek team.

Second story: there are quite a few volunteers involved with Damn Cheek when it comes to the show. I mentioned at the start that I helped build a theatre set entirely made of cardboard. That set was for The Causeway. It was huge, and at the end of the show it all had to be dismantled and recycled. The sound of us volunteers muttering curses in a church after being told how to remove tape from cardboard will live with me for some time!

The End

PS: but only ‘The End’ of this blog. Because volunteering with Damn Cheek isn’t just for one show!