Volunteering in a local theater group is often a way to see a show for free. Ushering, helping with backstage and other “back of the house” chores, in addition to acting and directing can fill your cultural appetite without emptying your pocketbook.
Although area stages work to keep ticket prices, low, free is an even better “price.”
There are five fully volunteer live theatergoers in our area: Brunswick Little Theatre (BLT); Murrells Inlet Community Theatre (MICT); Theatre of the Republic (TOR); Stage Left Theatre Company; and Swamp Fox Players. The sixth company that relies on volunteer help is Atlantic Stage, a professional, not-for-profit, company that performs in space owned by Coastal Carolina University’s Myrtle Beach Education Center. They also need and welcome volunteers on crews, ushering and more.
Most of these companies are just getting started for the 2014-2105 season, but no matter. They can all use volunteers at any time, whether it is for the first show or the last or in between.
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More than a free ticket
Each local theater group has its own “rules” on giving complementary tickets to volunteers who help with various tasks. All of the groups try to make volunteering a fun experience. None of the volunteers I contacted volunteers “for the seats.” All simply want to be a part of live theater on the Grand Strand.
Wendy Margulies has volunteered with Atlantic Stage for the last three of their seasons (this is their seventh) and is now in her second term as coordinator for ushers and concessionaires. “I started to volunteer because I enjoyed the shows,” she says. “I found volunteering to be a great way to see shows, meet some new people, and most importantly to help keep live theater viable in Myrtle Beach. I really believe in live theater.” Atlantic Stage invites all of its volunteers to watch the final dress rehearsal the night before the premiere.
Sue Feeheley, TOR volunteer of the year for the 2013-14 season started volunteering when she moved here in 1999. “At that time, I used to act in some of the plays. Now, at age 81, I stay behind the scenes or in the front of the house. I do whatever they ask.”
While some people volunteer for many years, Foy Ford, theater manager of Swamp Fox Players says, “You can volunteer for just one play if you want to. It’s fun and exciting even if a person can help just once.”
Who can help and what you can do
Age is no barrier, nor is lack of experience. All types of skills are needed. Volunteers from high school age on up are welcomed by most groups.
Stacy Di Pasquale, publicity manager of Atlantic Stage says, the duties of a volunteer depend on what they are looking to do as well as the time commitment they are prepared to make. There are many tasks that will use your experience in graphics or sewing or carpentry and many others that require little more than common sense and the ability to read numbers and letters, like ushering. Some, like working concessions, need a willingness to clean up, and ticketing and concessions both call for the ability to make change and provide a quick accounting of funds after the show.
June Jordan, a board member at MICT applies her graphics arts skills to serve that group. She notes, “I find it a great creative outlet and love the camaraderie. We have a following among snowbirds and some of them volunteer, even with light and sound. They are eager to get involved. We welcome people.” Jordan says the board members are often subscribers and many of the regular volunteers are too.
Ushering is a good way to start with any theater company, whether you are looking for a free ticket or simply want to learn more about a group. Your commitment is usually only for one play. Of course, the ability to watch the show can vary from Standing Room only to breaking up your viewing in order to help a paying patron during the show.
One of the most demanding jobs besides actually acting in the play or directing, is working on the sound or lighting (for the all-volunteer groups). Both of those positions require special training and you need to be at many if not all rehearsals and all of the plays in a show’s run. You see the play multiple times. Backstage helpers such as makeup and costumers often “see” the play only from behind the scenes. Working on sets can be strictly carpentry and painting but sets also need those with shaping skills to comb thrift shops for items required for period plays.
Brunswick Little Theatre has been advertising a number of theater-related opportunities such as sitting at a booth during festivals to hand out promotional literature for the group. Whatever your skills, remember, the entire world’s a stage according to the Bard, and volunteering allows you to share the role of playing in it.