New uniforms for Opera House staff

Last updated 05:00 18/07/2013
uniform
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

SHOW TIME: From left, Nan Sanders, Aaron Conwell, Vi Blackburn and Maria Sutton, who all work at St James Theatre, with their new uniforms.

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As an 8-year-old, Vi Blackburn took her first steps across the Wellington Opera House to perform in front of a packed house.

These days, the 85-year-old works at the St James Theatre as a team leader for ushers during ballet, opera, music and theatre performances.

The sprightly woman sang opera until she was about 18 and says she was "good but I wasn't outstanding", although colleague and long-time friend Nan Sanders says she is far too modest.

"She has one of the most beautiful voices you would ever hear."

From next week the St James Theatre staff, along with all Positively Wellington Venues, will be wearing their new uniforms including vests featuring a design by Sarah Maxey on the back.

Blackburn's 21-year-old grandson, Aaron Conwell, also works at the St James and says he likes how the design incorporates all of the venues, including the Opera House, Michael Fowler Centre and Shed 6.

Soon after Blackburn's opera career ended, she took up a role in the newly formed box office at the Opera House, where she remembers uniform smocks in pink, orange and floral – but "not all at one time".

"They were horrible.

"In 1986 we had the first international art festival and I stamped every single ticket for that. There must have been thousands."

From the gaudy to the extreme, when she sold programmes she wore a ball gown which was "beautiful and probably blue".

"You used to dress in those days when you came to the theatre, and especially ballet and opera."

Throughout her career she has continued to be involved in the theatre, performing in The Sound of Music twice, and in Wellington Repertory Theatre's 1993 production 70 Girls 70: a "lovely little musical and we were all elderly".

She says it is the magic of the theatre which keeps her interested. "It's escapism. It's just wonderful. Recently we had the Phantom [of the Opera] here and just the smiles on people's faces."

Her children and grandchildren are also thespians – Conwell recently acted in plays at Downstage, she says.

Blackburn says she has no plans to give up her job any time soon. "As long as my legs and brains [work].

"Although one of the front of house managers said he'd let me work in a wheelchair, so I might keep him to that."

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- The Dominion Post

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