Volunteering Story of the Month – Wendy Sharer

The story I have to tell spans nearly 30 years – as my involvement began at the beginning of the 1990s.

A chance viewing of a television interview with Mary Ward and Jo Collins in conversation with Jan and Paula Rees, brought to our attention the organisation of Chickenshed – I was so fascinated by this that I managed to find where they were based and made contact. So the rest is our history with them.

At that time the administration was still based at Mary’s house with Wendy Shillinglaw running it, but the work was expanding and they needed more space.  So the first volunteering occurred – but it was our house which we supplied.  We lived in quite a rambling house in which there were spare spaces – so our garage was converted into a working office where Wendy was then based, assisted by Janet Williams. Mary and Jo realised there were more unused spaces and Malcolm Gorrie and Graham Hollick used gentle persuasion to convince us to accommodate them as well. Soon the attic was the next volunteer – providing space for the creation and storing of costumes for Anansi and the Christmas Show. Looking around they came across the barn in the garden – ideal for building and painting scenery – so that became the next volunteer! As it neared Christmas I became the supporting cast of food supplier and provided the crews with turkey sandwiches, hot mince pies and mulled wine. That was enjoyed by all – happy memories!

My next involvement progressed to the opening of the Theatre in 1994 when it was all hands on deck as we painted, lugged furniture and generally prepared the Theatre for Opening Night.

The Box Office had to be set up and was created under the supervision of Sandy Gonzales, Jan Rees and Julia Jerome.  A BOX area (where the TV screen resides today) was designated the area.  It also housed all the electrical controls so every time it was necessary to reach the control panel, we had to lift all our paperwork to allow them access.  Yes - in the early days we did bookings with box files, paper, pens and rubbers!  I became part of the Box Office ‘GALS’ first under the leadership of Julia and then Amy Dunbar.

In the early 2000s I saw the need to raise some revenue and it occurred to me that we could create a recipe book. The ladies of the Box Office became the team and we wrote to 500 parents, friends, members and celebrities for contributions to create 'Recipes from the Shed'.  To our amazement we had a fantastic response and with David Willis as the illustrator of the book, Amy, Janet, Sue, Judy, Elaine, Noni and I were delighted to produce the recipe book. We launched it at a Reception held in the Bar with celebrity Chef Jean-Christoffe Novelli lending glamour to the evening, sponsored by Abbey New Homes. Many years later we created another Recipe Book with the help of Anne Slade, to raise funds for the Michelle Durler Youth Music group.

Our Managing Director, John Bull started an Awareness Group and I was co-opted onto this team. With Julia Jerome we would visit all the local business parks and company offices to get an interview with managing directors to promote Chickenshed and invite them to our Corporate Cabaret evenings. A group of us then helped support the annual Cabaret evenings in the Rayne Theatre which were supported by celebrities, corporate patrons and guests. We helped to oversee the set-up and arrangement of the tables and oversaw the  catering and the smooth running of the hospitality of the event.

I have always tried to bring ideas and fundraising concepts to Chickenshed and so it was in 2012 that I approached Mary and Jo with the idea that there had never been a book chronicling the history of Chickenshed. With the 40th Anniversary approaching would it not be a wonderful opportunity to create this?  Under the guidance of Adam Gallagher the idea blossomed and in 2014 the book Chickenshed – An Awfully Big Adventure created by Elizabeth Thom, was launched.

During the last few years I have become involved with the Writers Group run by Jelena Budimir, Pete Dowse and Rachel Yates and have been very fortunate to have my scripts performed in Platform and Creative Writers Seasons in the Studio Theatre. I progressed from this to write and submit scripts for Lou Stein’s Monolog and in two successive years had performances in the Spring Shows. My first was Sands Of Time and last year’s was Mirror Me – the story of Belinda’s desire to be perceived by her abilities as a dancer. Now I am part of Rachel’s Intergenerational group – spanning the ages from youth to 80 year olds. After all these years I was coaxed and dragged across the great divide of backstage and became a performer on the stage in The Space Between Us!

Over the years I have volunteered my ideas and abilities to help further the ongoing success of Chickenshed but you probably know me as one of the ladies booking your tickets and answering your queries as I sit behind THE computer at the Box Office, struggling under Penny’s patience and guidance to comprehend the Spektrix system.

This is just an abridged version of my volunteering history, of what has been done with enthusiasm and love - brought about through my daughter Belinda’s (known as Bindi in Chickenshed) iconic story – that is another whole chapter.