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Ushering at a theater can be a family affair. Katie Kloder, her husband, son and daughter have been volunteering as ushers at the Alliance Theatre and other theaters in Atlanta, Georgia for several years.

"We love doing it, not only to see the shows, but to be able to help out, and many times we just come down to help out and not even stay for the show," says Kloder.

Volunteering in the theater is as old as many of the theaters themselves. It is not unusual for whole generations of families to volunteer. Some ushers have been volunteering for over 50 years!

Bronco Weiss is the head usher at the San Francisco Opera. "I became involved 44 years ago when my sister was attending [University of California,] Berkeley and she offered me an usher pass for the Opera House," says Weiss.

Ushers' duties may vary. At smaller theaters ushers help people to their seats, move props around, work the refreshment stand and collect tickets. In fact, some ushers greet the patrons, and then quickly change for their acting scene in the play.

At larger venues, the duties can be more specific and regimented. Dale Lawrence is lead house manager and manager of the ushers at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. "Ushers are required to, much like any job, arrive on time, dress appropriately and make all patrons feel at home within our theater," he says.

Ushers nearly always receive free admission to see the show they're ushering. Many become involved because of the atmosphere, the feeling of community and the chance to be involved in the arts.

Al Bourke is a production director for a music festival. He says volunteers must commit to an eight-day stay at the festival site with approximately 12 hours of work each day. "The volunteers receive training, accommodations on site, a $20 per diem to cover food costs, operations and procedures manuals, T-shirts and a staff photo," he says.

The arts benefit greatly from the contribution of volunteers. The theater is no exception.

The feel of live theater and music can be hypnotic. It's easy to get hooked. And you don't have to be a performer.

Mary Morder is one of more than 800 ushers at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. She enjoys meeting people and seeing the plays for free. "I began ushering because my roommate and several of her friends have been doing it for years, and they convinced me to join them," she says.

Jenna Powers has many fond memories of volunteering as an usher. "I started ushering in high school, did it all through the broke college years and have continued it in my spare time," she says.

"Ushering is a wonderful opportunity for students of any age. First and foremost, it's cheap -- the most essential part of being a student."

Helping out can be a springboard to a dream come true. Rob Bates started volunteering for a music festival in 1991. "I got involved because I was playing for my high school music program and was an aspiring technician," he says.

"I've been volunteering ever since and finally became lighting director in 1997. I've met people from all over the country and been to cities I never would have gotten to if it weren't for [the festival.]"

Dorene Hodin is the theater chairperson for Spokane Children's Theatre in Washington. "For ushering, the volunteer gets two free tickets to the show they usher," she says. "We normally like ushers to be 12 years old, but I have worked with them as young as five -- they hand out programs -- if the parent is with them."

At the Orlando University of Central Florida Shakespeare festival, about 100 people volunteer as ushers each year. About 15 percent are high school and college students.

Angel Hissom is director of audience services at the festival. "Several local high schools volunteer together as groups every year: drama clubs, national honor societies, key clubs, even Girl Scout troops and college sororities," she says. "Most of our young volunteers are here because they want to be close to the theater and theater folk."

Powers sums up the ushering experience like this: "The most vital thing ushering taught me was that I am part of the art produced in those moments that I am there. Any time a person has a chance to take part in a production, even by something as seemingly trivial as ushering, responsibility is created, and pride in the product is increased. A sense of ownership is instilled. Thus, an art lover is created for life."

How to Get Involved

Just about anywhere there is a live performance, there is a need for volunteers. Check with your drama instructor or the drama club at your school. Chances are you will be recruited on the spot for ushering duties.

Talk to your guidance counselor about volunteer opportunities in your area. Most towns, even small towns, have a lively arts community. Many small production companies advertise for positions for their upcoming season in the local paper. Casting calls are not just for actors.

Your local theater, whether it's modest or has a worldwide reputation, will employ someone who is responsible for the "house." Often called the "house director," this person is responsible for just about everything except what happens on stage. This is the person to contact if you are interested in ushering. Larger organizations may even employ someone who manages the ushers.


National Endowment for the Arts

American Association of Community Theatre


American Theaters
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Find theater news and resources

San Francisco Opera
Find out more about the famous opera house in California

Alliance Theatre
Learn more about this theater in Atlanta, Georgia

Spokane Children's Theatre
Check out the fun productions by this theater in Washington

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