Dee Dee O'Connor
- Washington State Columnist
Volunteerism is the lifeblood of community theatre. Without good, solid volunteers, community theatre would come to a grinding halt. To have and maintain a strong corps of volunteers requires both diligence and vigilance. Community theatres must actively and consistently recruit new volunteers and recognize the ones who stand out. Equally important (although rarely done) is the removal of those who have been positions too long, or are in jobs for which they’re not suited. It takes time, commitment, and it’s not always easy, but it is absolutely necessary if you want your theatre to thrive. In this three-part article, I’ll talk about recruiting, retaining, and if necessary, replacing your volunteers.
It’s a no brainer that new blood is vital to any organization. Your theatre will grow stale and bog down if the same people do all the work year in and year out. But don’t assume that people will flock to your door to volunteer. Some will come to you but others will need to be asked. So be proactive and encourage volunteerism. Let people know you are seeking new volunteers by placing a notice in programs and announcing it in pre-show speeches. On your audition forms have a section listing other areas actors can get involved in if they don’t get cast. You’d be surprised at the number of people who will volunteer to be stage managers, assistant stage managers, stage crew members, and light operators, just to name a few. Motivate current volunteers to spread the word. Tell folks how much fun it is to be involved in theatre. What originally hooked me (someone who, up until a few ago, had never been involved with theatre except as an audience member) was a house manager who asked for volunteers during the pre-show speech. He made it sound like fun and mentioned that “no experience” was required. I signed up on the spot and it changed my life.
If you don’t already have a person in charge of volunteers, get one. This person will the face of your theatre so he or she should be friendly, outgoing, and genuinely interested in recruiting volunteers. Make it easy for folks to sign up and get involved. Don’t just put their names on a list! Evaluate their skills and determine what they’re interested in. If they want to pound nails on the set crew, don’t sign them up to usher. If they want to direct but don’t have experience don’t poo-poo their idea. Explain how they might actually get there. Next, put them to work as soon as possible. Don’t make them wait. Nothing is more frustrating than to be excited at the prospect of volunteering and then having to wait around for someone to call you in. If you can’t put them to work right away, invite prospective volunteers to a tour of your facility or to a rehearsal. Introduce them to people who are involved with their areas of interest. Let them know you are interested.
Make your theatre inviting to new faces. You never know who your next outstanding volunteer will be.
In Part 2 I’ll talk about retaining volunteers and in Part 3 I’ll take on the all-important (and equally uncomfortable) topic of getting rid of dead weight.