The March 25th "HMS Pinafore" performance at the Piedmont Opera marked my eleventh year of Protocol in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Although times, faces, and performances have changed over the years, the basic idea has not. Protocol is just that, "the customs and regulations dealing with diplomatic formality, precedence, and etiquette" (dictionary.com).
I first eased into the event as a chaperone and then a few years later Leigh Bortins passed the hostess duties on to me. Leigh was a member of a local country club so our formal dinners started there with her comfort of familiarity. Later, I found a fine restaurant near the theatre for our four course meals. What I appreciate about the restaurant is the public atmosphere of elegance for our evening that will be translated for the future: Today, the focus may be the student's struggle with how to eat bruschetta gracefully while having a pleasant conversation at the same time; at some future tomorrow, the focus may move to a conversation of greater import, perhaps a prelude to a marriage proposal.
With the development of Protocol, the event moved beyond an experience of gathering for an evening in formal dress. Leigh added the pleasant and informative Protocol Matters by Sandra Boswell to the Classical Conversations Bookstore. It was very inspiring to be reminded that manners are purposeful kindnesses that are not necessarily intuitive, not needing to be stuffy, and can easily be demonstrated and practiced. My role grew to be more supportive and friendly, not only as a kind greeter but also as a guide for the evening's event from first contact by email, to delivering information, to the arrival on the doorstep, to gentle instruction during both the dinner and performance.