When I was a child, we had a New Year’s Eve tradition in our family. We were too young to stay awake till midnight to see the New Year in, but we did it another way. Just before bedtime, we would say goodbye to the Old Year by opening the back door as if to usher it out. We would wave madly at the invisible entity and say sad goodbyes to it before closing the door.
This was followed by a walk through the house to open the front door to usher in the New Year. We did this eagerly with shouts of welcome and anticipation of a great year to come. Once this little ceremony was done, we children went to bed happy and left the adults to welcome in the New Year in their own way at the appropriate time.
During my years of working in theatre, New Year’s Eve could be a mixed bag. A beautiful theatre where I worked in Cape Town did it really well. We had three venues which opened out onto an inviting, three-storey high, central foyer, and on New Year’s Eve the starting times for all three venues were adjusted so that the shows all finished at quarter to midnight.
As the audience members left each auditorium, they were handed glasses of champagne and found themselves walking into a party-filled central foyer with a band playing and lead singer getting them into the mood and ready for the countdown fifteen minutes later.
The beauty of this, for me, meant that my job was over for the night and I was able to enjoy the party with everyone else.
Not so in most other theatres in my career.
Most of them did New Year’s Eve with the starting times tweaked to ensure that the stroke of midnight would happen at the end, during the curtain call. As the stage manager, I had to judge this precise moment, which required split-second timing and caused me a certain amount of stress.
At the pre-arranged signal, I would cue the chosen main performer to address the audience and lead them into the countdown. Quite frankly, I hated these events because the perfect timing was frequently ruined by another performer who would decide that his watch was right and we were wrong. This usurper would leap into the fray, override our carefully-made plans, and start the countdown early. Of course, the audience joined in and suddenly our backstage and technical staff had less than ten seconds to race to get the balloons dropping, streamers thrown, music and lights co-ordinated.
Trust me, there’s not much fun in trying to shout cues into a microphone and headset while performers are rushing about giving you sweaty hugs and getting in your way a whole minute before the appointed time.
Over the years I began to long for quiet New Year’s Eves…
Twenty years ago the turnover from 1999 to 2000 promised to be a huge affair, but by some stroke of (supposedly bad) luck, I ended up stage managing a rather odd production that year, and the organisers cancelled our performance to encourage people to head to a much bigger event in another venue.
I was so happy! I spent that New Year’s Eve with my mother in Pietermaritzburg, both of us in our dressing gowns, watching fireworks from her balcony, toasting each other – probably with tea! I think we were in our respective beds by half-past midnight. This gave us a lovely early start to the next day’s festivities. One of my best New Years ever!
Somewhere in my mid-forties I began writing, and I fell into the habit of awaking earlier each morning to enjoy some quiet writing time before the reality of the day could hit me. Since I moved to Australia and gave up working in theatre, I now go to bed even earlier, and this means that on New Year’s Eve I sometimes fall asleep before midnight. That’s fine with me. I enjoy the quiet of the early mornings and the earlier start to my day.
This year I’m starting my New Year with only one resolution, and that’s to make no resolutions at all. I’ve given up on trotting out the same old resolutions every year, and being stressed out or disappointed in myself when I don’t live up to them.
This year I plan on enjoying my life, my job, my writing, and my time with my precious family, all without any pressure to “do better” than in previous years. I hope you will all join me in being kind to yourselves, because this means we can be kinder to others too.