Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Respect for your Volunteers

Volunteers are the life of almost every community theater organization in the Hudson Valley. They build sets, create & find props, promote the show, work backstage, run sound and lights, usher and act. Each and every one of these volunteers is essential - they spend their valuable free time making community theater in this area great. We're talking hundreds of hours of work.

So why do so many of these talented, valuable people feel abused?

It's come up in conversation quite a bit lately - from a wide variety of thespian and community theater supporters, enough so that I felt that it is enough of an issue that I should at least start a dialog about it.

Say thank you - These two words go a long way to making most people happy. It's the simplest and easiest thing an organization can do. Thank your volunteers in the program, in the newsletter and most importantly in person.

Respect Volunteers Time - Everyone has busy full lives these days. Be organized, make the most of the people who show up to help and for goodness sake start on time!

Be Honest - If a show is pre-cast or partially cast, be honest and let audition candidates know what roles are open. Don't call it an "open" call if some roles were offered to individuals prior to the audition dates - in some cases prior to getting the show rights. People will talk and your organization loses credibility.

Give everyone a fair chance - if it is in fact an open audition individuals should be given a fair audition. What does fair mean? Equality. If you let a "friend" or "long time supporter" sing a whole song even though he/she can't carry a tune (This one I have seen in person) - you better let every single candidate sing as well. Especially if it is an open audition and every single person in the room hears it. If you are pressed for time keep it to 16 bars. Be consistent.

Respect - Honor your volunteers and long time supporters - even if they take time off. I'm not advocating giving roles to people who have supported your organization if they are not the strongest candidate/ right for the job. I am advocating giving them an opportunity to come back after some time away. We all need to take time for our lives, sometimes a new job, a new baby or a long illness takes people away from volunteering. Don't write them off, give them an attitude or disrespect them - they have had to make difficult decisions, and need to feel like they still belong.

Respect (part 2) - Respect your current Volunteers also. A director should never lose it and say anything like "you guys really suck" (yes it really happened). Everyone in Community theater is a volunteer (except for musicians, but that's another story) - honor their contribution, guide them if they need help, but for goodness sake don't insult them or treat them like dirt. Again, I'm not advocating taking abuse either, because I know it is difficult to be on the production side of things - directors are not good carpet material either. So perhaps this section should be reciprocal respect.

Be friendly - The best way to grow your organization is to be approachable. If you are distant or standoffish, people are not going to work with you again.

So those are my thoughts around some of the issues facing community theater groups in the mid hudson valley. What do you see as the biggest issues with community theater groups, and so this doesn't become a bastion of negativity, how do you propose to solve it?

A couple of other posts that touch on some of these items:
An Actor Darkly


Anonymous said...

These comments are well expressed. I had taken time off to develop a new career and get my masters. I suspect that I have recently been the recipient of what I believe to be the "haven't seen you around for a while" snub by two local theater companies, after having devoted endless hours to memorable roles onstage and endless hours working backstage. I also produced positive reviews for my performances which only benefited the finances of these groups.
Any of us who have actively been involved in local theater, and who have left a significant history of performances behind them understand that you will not be awarded every part you seek. But all of us love the theater. Why else would we work so hard for FREE and to have been snubbed is not only offensive, it's opened my eyes to the fact that all of those hours have gone unappreciated. This have been a hard pill to swallow.

Chris from "Your Neighborhood Stage" said...

I really enjoyed your blog post. I co-host a national podcast on community theatre and would love to interview you about the post but cannot seem to locate a email address for you. Would you please email me at Chris at so we can set up an interview?

kat said...

As you know, I agree with everything you have said here. You are right on every bullet.

Well said!

kat said...

PS.... we just discussed your entry yesterday before our performance of The Crucible. Everyone agreed with your sentiments. Just thought you should know!

Erica said...

Thanks to everyone for your support and kind words. I hope this will help to remind everyone how important the community is in 'community theater'

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