Paper Free Finchley

I'm in Finchley!

I'm not sure that deserved an exclamation mark.

I can tell by your expression that you don't either.

"Don't you live in Finchley?" I can very almost hear you say. And it's true. I do. "But aren't you staying in Hammersmith at the moment?” Yeah. Yeah, that's also true. "So, doesn't that mean that you trekked all the way across London tonight? I kinda feel that you might have planned this a bit bett-"

Okay, you shut up now. I don't have to listen to that kind of talk. This is my blog, and I won't be insulted by someone who hasn't had to deal with the spreadsheet nightmares that have been my life over the past nine months. So: hush.

I'm in Finchley and I am going to the fucking artsdepot. Again. Because they have two theatres and that's just fucking great.

I may be a little overtired. And damp.

After dropping some stuff off at home, I hurry through the rain, down Ballards Lane and up to Tally Hoe, pass the Lidl, turn onto Nether Street and speed through the automatic glass doors.

The box office is just inside and I wait until someone is free, tucking my soaked umbrella under my arm.

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"Hi," I say, as chirpily as I can. This is my local theatre after all. I don't want to get a reputation. "The surname's Smiles?"

The box officer looks at me blankly.

"For Still I Rise?" I try. Just in case there's more than one show going on tonight.

"Did you get the text message?" he asks.

"Umm..."

I vaguely remember seeing something pop up on my phone from artsdepot, but I figured it was a reminder or something like that.

Oh gawd. Is this another Harrow Arts Centre situation? Have I just had another show cancel on me? In the same damn week? I'm really not sure I can take it.

I get out my phone and look for it.

"Sorry, I never check these things," I tell him.

"Don't worry," he says, sounding pretty chill for a man who is right now ruining my entire marathon. "It should have a link in it."

"Umm..."

"It would have been about four o'clock," he says.

I find it. "Got it," I say, scrolling down and yes, there is a link. I click it. A QR code fills my screen. An e-ticket. Ew.

I turn my screen around to show him.

"There you go! We're trialling something new. Just use that."

Ergh. I thought I was safe. I was only here a few months ago, and we were still well into paper ticket territory. And now this.

It's happening more and more. I visit once and everything is fine. I go to a box office and they give me a real ticket. Happiness reigns. And then when I return, it's all this digital shit.

2019 is turning into the year of the e-ticket.

It's completely disgusting and I don't approve.

And even worse: text messages.

With links.

I didn't sign up for this.

In fact, I did the opposite of signing up for this.

When booking this ticket I specifically selected the "Leave my tickets at the box office (no charge)" option. Because, just in case I wasn't clear on the matter, I like paper tickets. Scrap that: I love paper tickets. Almost as much as I hate e-tickets. If I wanted an e-ticket, I would have chosen the print at home option. But I don't. So I didn't.

So really, what the artsdepot is doing here, is not only ignoring my wishes, but also misselling. They tell me I can pick up from box office, and then, instead, give me this inferior product and smile while doing it.

I'm raging.

I should complain. I should go full-fucking-Karen and demand to speak to a manager. I should...

"Thanks," I say, heading off towards the escalator.

This is my local theatre after all. I might bump into these people in the big Tescos.

And I do like the escalator.

I step on and let its gentle movement soothe me as I sail up to the next floor.

The cafe is up here, with all its multi-coloured chairs and big friendly signage.

I'd kinda had it in mind that I wanted to see what happened in the gallery, but it's still closed, so I find a seat and try to dry off.

The tables fill up around me as people clutch onto cups full of hot drinks.

A few minutes later, there's an announcement over the tannoy. "Could all ticket holders for this evening's performance of Still I Rise head to the Pentland Theatre on level three. The performance will begin in three minutes."

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I check the time.

It's 7.25pm.

I see you Tannoy Lady, rushing us for no reason.

Three minutes, my arse.

But, I go all the same. Following that big friendly signage up a flight of stairs to level three.

There's a great big landing up here, with more seating.

I look at my e-ticket. It says I need the Right Door, which is the one closest to the stairs.

There's two ticket checkers standing there, and one of them beeps me in.

"A1?" I ask the usher inside.

She directs me towards the end of the front row. Which, I mean, I figured. But I thought it polite to ask all the same.

I take a few steps in that directon, and then stop.

I've noticed something.

The theatre isn't full, but every single person in here is clutching a sheet of paper.

Freesheets. They've got freesheets. I want a freesheet.

I'll be damned if I'm not walking out of here with at least one bit of paper.

I double back. "Is there a cast sheet?" I ask the usher.

"Programme?" she asks.

"Yeah?" I mean, I guess.

She goes off to check, returning a half-minute later with one of the ticket checkers from the door. She shakes her head. "No programme."

Oh. Okay.

I'm tired and wet and can't be bothered to press it.

I go off to my seat.

Front row. Right at the end.

And there's someone sitting in it.

"Are you A1?" I ask the young girl sitting in A1, knowing full well that she is not A1, because I am A1, and there can't be two of us.

She looks at me, her eyes full of innocence and embarrasment.

"No," she admits. "I'm in A5. But I can move...? Or you can have A5…?"

I look down the row. A2 and 3 are also occupied by young girls. A4 is an older lady. I see how it is. She wants to sit with her friends. Well, I can't say I've never done that before.

"I'm very happy to sit in A5," I tell her, starting to make my way down the row.

"It's a better seat anyway!" calls her friend after me.

She's not wrong. It's almost in the middle of the row.

Front row centre. It doesn't get much better than that.

I dump my back and try to flip down my new seat, but it catches on something.

"Sorry, I'm spreading out," says the lady in A4, pulling her coat free, putting her bag on her lap and... tucking away her freesheet.

"Sorry," I say quickly before she has the chance to put it away. "Can I be very rude and take a picture of your cast sheet? They've run out..."

"Oh! Oh no. What a shame," she says. And she holds it out for me to take my photo.

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That done, I look around.

It's a nice space in here. A very large stage. Surprisingly large.

It's my first time in this space and I'd always wondered why they did so much dance here. Now I know. It's this big-arse stage.

A woman slips into the row behind me, slightly out of breath.

"Sorry," she says to her friend as she plonks herself down. "I did that classic dance thing, that industry thing, of not looking up what we're seeing."

Me too, love. Me too.

I think I probably read the copy at one point, but honestly, I can't remember a thing.

I consider looking up my photo of the freesheet, but I can hear something moving beside the stage and I think we're about to begin.

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Sure enough, the lights are dimming.

Five dancers. All women.

Crinolined costumes give way to softer fair.

It's strong and vulnerable and aggressive and tender.

They lift each other up, both literally and metaphorically. One holds another, cradling her head, stopping her from sinking to the ground. They won't let each other fail.

One dancer appears silhouetted against a light, wearing only shorts and a cropped top. She moves like a bodybuilder. Like a fighter. Unafraid to show off her strength. Her muscles.

She reminds me of Arya. From Game of Thrones. A water dancer no longer in need of a sword.

"Wow, that was something," says my neighbour as our applause chases the dancers off stage.

"They were warriors!" I say.

"Yes!"

"Amaing to see a company of female dancers be so strong," I add.

"Yes," she agrees. "Very powerful. I'm glad I came."

"Me too. I'm ready to take on the world now."

I grab my bag and make for the exit.

"Is that it?" someone asks, sounding unsure.

"I think so. It was an hour," comes the equally unsure reply.

Not many people are leaving.

Most are still in their seats.

I hesitate. Maybe there really is more.

But the ushers on the door are handing out flyers. That's a send-off, not an interval activity.

I grab one, thinking this is the only bit of paper I'm going to get my hands on this evening.

Back down the stairs, through the cafe and towards the escalator which has now reversed its direction to take us downstairs.

Outside, a small group have gathered to have a smoke.

"Is it half time?" one asks.

"No, it's actually finished," says another. "I heard the ushers..."

I pull my jacket close around me and make a rush towards the tube station, dropping the flyer in the first recycling bin I see.