When Storyhouse first opened, Martyn Harris knew he wanted to get involved and give something back to the city he calls home.
The former teacher – and lifelong theatre and opera lover – decided to offer his services as a volunteer. And in the past two years he has become a key part of the large team of supporters who help keep Storyhouse running smoothly.
In return, Storyhouse has offered the 63-year-old, who was previously a board member of the former Gateway Theatre, a wealth of experiences as well as opportunities to share his passion for the creative arts.
“I didn’t expect to be involved in so many different aspects of the organisation,” he admits over a coffee in Storyhouse’s The Kitchen.
“I thought I’d be coming along and just stewarding theatre shows. Having been at the Gateway I know how many stewards it takes to get a show in.
“But I help in the library. I show guided tours around the building. I help at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre where my speciality is meet-greet-seat.
Martyn played his part in showing off Storyhouse when the Queen and the Duchess of Sussex officially opened the venue last year, being chosen to escort them downstairs in the lift after seeing excerpts from A Little Night Music, where – he reveals – the Duchess commented on the talent on show on stage.
And recently, Alex Clifton, whom Martyn has known since the Storyhouse artistic director was a little boy, asked him to do a presentation at the annual review.
It also gave Martyn a chance to speak out about just how much he appreciates the friendly, inclusive ethos of the organisation.
He explains: “Storyhouse is a very welcoming place, and it’s not about the building, it’s about the people who use it for various different reasons.
“Very personally, being a gay man, I’ve spent my life looking for places where I feel safe, where I can be myself, where I don’t feel hostility. This is that place.”
That was exemplified recently when protesters took to the street outside the theatre during a run of the Rocky Horror Show – ironically, they were the same group who had protested outside Martyn’s civil partnership ceremony in the city 14 years ago.
“Storyhouse’s reaction was immediate,” he smiles. “Their avatar was changed to rainbow stripes and they issued a statement reaffirming their commitment to the LGBTQ+ community that this is a safe place. And that really thrilled my heart.
“This place! This is my safe space and I feel like I belong here.”
Going forward in to his third year of volunteering, he says he would love to offer more regular tours of the venue for all the visitors who are interested in a peek behind the scenes.
Of course, one way of really seeing how Storyhouse functions is to become one of its 150 plus volunteers.
So, what would he say to other people who might be interested in getting involved?
He considers: “If they’re thinking about it, they should definitely do it. We’re very, very welcoming. Although the rewards are probably not what you think.
“Some people have said to me, ‘oh it must be lovely volunteering here, you get to see the shows.’ But sometimes people spend so much time out at the loo that you hardly get to see the show, because you have to go out to let them back in through the pass doors!
“It’s all the other things that are far more rewarding. And that is meeting the people who come here. You meet different people all the time, and they’re so positive about the place.”