When you think about who “runs” the arts, what comes to mind? The brilliant (but maybe slightly crazy) Artistic Director emerging every few months with something life changing? The uniform-clad, slightly older person working the box office at The Citadel? The performers who take to the streets during Fringe festival handing out handbills to everyone who walks by? The well-heeled woman working the room at every fundraiser, thanking everyone for their support?
One of the things that surprised me as I became more and more involved in Edmonton’s theatre scene was the sheer number of people who spend their time volunteering to enable great performers and great administrators to do the work that they do best. I was shocked to find out that even The Citadel Theatre has an army of volunteers. For some reason, I thought once a venue was as big as The Citadel, it would have no more need for volunteers.
Volunteering in the theatre community has really been my most recent step in the evolution that is my involvement in the arts. Volunteerism has always been a big part of my life, but somehow I never really realized that I could, in some small way (aside from reviewing) help support the terrific productions I was seeing by volunteering to take tickets, or serve drinks, or sell 50/50s. I’ve had a lot of bad volunteerism experiences in the past – you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to manage volunteers – treat them well and tell them what you expect from them – but apparently it is. I’m so happy though, that I’ve never had a bad experience volunteering in the theatre community.
That said though, I’ve been surprised at the lack of really “high level” volunteer jobs available. Sure, tickets need to be sold or taken, the audience needs their drinks, and 50/50s are a great fundraising technique. All those jobs need to be done, but what about the other jobs – social media coordination, or poster-making, or lights operation*, or sound operation*, or even… volunteer management! As someone who lives and breaths marketing and writing – day and night – I’ve always wondered why no one has every taken me up on my offer to help out in those regards when I put it on my volunteer application. Maybe those volunteer roles don’t exist, but if not… why not? Isn’t our community missing out on a huge source of potential skill sets? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to support a show by taking tickets, but I’ve always wondered if there’s some “secret” application form that I’m not seeing.
One of the things I love most about theatre is that it’s all about collaboration – if all the people aren’t in place and committed, the show doesn’t happen. Volunteers are a huge part of that collaboration – before the next show you go to, stop and ask someone how many volunteers vs. paid staff are involved. I’m sure the number will surprise all of us. But, I think it’s time for a true collaboration – not one based on whether a person is paid or not, but based on their skill set and time they have available to give.
– Jenna Marynowski
*Yes, I’m aware that some theatre companies – like Walterdale – have lights and sound operated by volunteers.