WATCH: Edinburgh theatres in lockdown: 'The King's is like a big hug...' - FOH Manager Kim McKenna

Watching the web series F.O.H. on YouTube, Kim McKenna suddenly became aware that she was watching herself, one character’s stories, sayings and situations being all far too familiar.

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Sitting in the Tudor Bar of the King's Theatre, Kim, one of Capital Theatre’s Front of House (FOH) managers, laughs as she recalls the moment she realised that one of the venue's ushers had created a character for the comedy drama after watching her in action.

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She explains, "We have some really talented ushers here; writers, musicians, drama students, resting actors... everything. One of them, Andrew Dyer, stole some of the things I do and say for his web comedy. F.O.H. We were all watching it and I was like, 'Andrew! That's me...'"

Edinburgh King's Theatre Front of House Manager, Kim McKenna

Laughing, she elaborates, "At one point I'd been doing a 30 day shred, a daily 20 minute workout. I couldn't fit it in during the day so I'd bring my gym stuff to work. When the show was on I could be found in the Cruickshank Room doing my exercises. Andrew walked in one day and saw me, asked what I was doing, and wrote it into the show. A few of my sayings also made it into the script and, when they needed people to play audience members, my mother and I got small roles in the first series."

All of which sums up the camaraderie shared by the front-facing staff who strive to ensure your welcome to the Old Lady of Leven Street, as the King's is affectionately known, is everything it should be. Ushers, bar staff and managers alike are one big family, a family Kim admits she is missing badly since being furloughed at the start of lockdown, although she has managed to return for the odd day here and there.

The mother of two, who joined the theatre in 2001, recalls, "When I came to be interviewed for the job of Front of House Assistant I didn't get it, but I must have impressed because when another post became available they got me back in and offered it to me. My first show was the Telford College dance show Cross Currents, and I've told them every year since that theirs was the first show I ever worked."

A local, the 45-year-old attended Craiglockhart Primary and Tynecastle High and was no stranger to the King's when she started working there. Like generations of city theatre goers, the annual panto was already part of her life.

To the Stage Door at Edinburgh King's Theatre

"I remember going first when I was eight. It is still my favourite time of year. It's a joyous time to be working, everyone is happy when they arrive and happy when they leave. You know what you’re going to get with panto, which is great from a FOH manager's point of view."

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She admits that last year, she "just tried not to think about it" as December came around.

Unlike her backstage colleagues, Kim's team of 15 ushers and bar staff rarely meet the stars of the shows that come to town, although she does have fond memories of chatting to the late Gerard Kelly and actor Nigel Havers.

"Because you are Front of House, you only meet the stars if you are working the press night or the opening party as your focus is ensuring everyone in the audience is happy. What goes on stage is really secondary to what we do."

Edinburgh King's Theatre Front of House Manager, Kim McKenna
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Audiences, of course, have been non-existent of late and like many, Kim found herself home schooling her children. Indeed, she has only been in the theatre on five days in that period.

"I've been in to help with bar stock rotation and things like that. It's weird, because when I am here it doesn't feel like I've ever been away," she says, before confessing, "but then home schooling has been just the worst for me. My son Rory is in S2 and my daughter Kara is P6 and I could never be a school teacher. However, it has been lovely spending more time with them, especially at the start; my son wanted to sleep in every room in the house and I let him, he even slept in the bathtub one night, that didn't last long, but the novelty is wearing thin now."

She remembers, "Alan Stewart's Big Big Variety Show was our last show before lockdown. I’d come to see it with pals on the Friday and Allan had made a joke, thanking everyone for 'braving the world and coming'. If I knew then what was about to happen..." She muses, "Would I have done anything differently? Oh, I don't know.”

With the announcement that spy thriller A Splinter of Ice is set to reopen the King's on July 13, Kim is excited to finally be getting back to work.

The King's Theatre, Edinburgh, welcomes its first show in over a year this July

"I love that we are a receiving house, with a different show every week, from the amateurs to famous names the next. It's amazing seeing how each set changes the stage, from a living room to a caravan or whatever, it's there.

"I just hope I'm Front of House manager on opening night. There are six of us and you can guarantee every single one of us will be fighting over who gets to work it. We’ll probably all volunteer to usher if it’s not our turn," she laughs.

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With conversations ongoing about whether social distancing will be required to meet the ever-changing government guidelines, one thing won't change, promises Kim.

"The King's is like a warm hug, going down the stairs and walking around to the stalls is like having two big arms hugging you as you go in. The theatre’s doors open a good hour before curtain up and I can't wait. Being quite an emotional and expressive person, I'll probably hug every single person who comes through the door... if guidelines allow," she qualifies, adding, "I'm even looking forward to my first complaint. I'll probably give them a great big hug too."

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