Curtain call

September 29, 1990

Beverly Winter loves the theater. She loves it so much she hasn't missed a play at Center Stage in nine seasons, including summer and holiday productions.

Winter is a volunteer usher. Not only has she seen every production mounted at the theater since the 1981 season, she has seen every one twice. And only a handful of the 300 active ushers at Center Stage volunteer to work twice during a run, says Robin Yasinow, a theater spokesman.

A long-time Center Stage subscriber, Winter started ushering in the late '70s when her daughter was in high school and also a volunteer. Winter wanted to see "A Christmas Carol," an annual holiday production at the time, but the show was sold out. The only way she could see it was to volunteer seating people. She took a shot, liked it and started volunteering more frequently.

Winter figures she has worked 64 straight productions at the theater. The most recent was last night, a preview performance of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." In 1986, she got her husband Jack into the act, too.

"It really enhances the performance to go twice," she says. "The first time, you go to listen to the dialogue, to know what's going on. The second time, you notice the staging and the lighting. And it's interesting to see the play mature through the run."

While Winter downplays the theater knowledge she's gained attending performances over the years, she will admit that her astute observation early in the run of a Noel Coward comedy a few years ago led to a change by the director. She pointed out that in England, the phones have double rings, not single ones. The "correction" was tended to promptly.

Of course, Winter's main reason for being there is to "tear" tickets, hand out programs, locate seats and seat late-comers. Once in a while someone will complain about the temperature or the theater's policy discouraging late arrivals. But for the most part, Winter says it's an easy job.

Ushers are assigned a date to work ahead of time, but if a conflict arises, they can reschedule their volunteer time. So Winter, a guidance counselor by day at Diggs Johnson School, says she hasn't had much difficulty maintaining her streak.

"In fact, I really hadn't thought of it as a streak," she says. "I've enjoyed it so much." How long does she expect to keep her record going? "As long as there's a Center Stage and I'm in Baltimore, I'll be there."

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