We are right in the thick of the the busy holiday period. With an extended school break, parties scheduled and holidays booked – this can only mean one thing – rehearsal absenteeism.
This post discusses how to ensure your group of performing volunteers prioritises rehearsing when there are so many other distractions that could occupy their time.
Repeat after me – “I can’t I’ve got rehearsals.”
In community theatre everyone; be it on stage, back stage or on the management team are volunteers. Most have full time jobs or study commitments and are part of or raising a family of their own.
Whether those volunteers were easily acquired or dragged kicking and screaming the bigger issue after getting them to sign on is getting them to turn up again and again and to chip in when they do turn up.
Luckily I happen to have a bit of experience in volunteer retention having trained over 800 volunteers for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. I’ve been able to apply the things I learned during that time throughout my musical theatre experiences and am happy to share with you now.
One of the simplest ways to encourage volunteers to help out is by providing a great experience from the management and production team and by this I don’t mean that they love the show, the songs or adore their fellow cast mates. I mean the administration of the run, those factors that you can control!
So, what makes a great volunteer experience?
First Impressions Count
If you appear flustered and disorganised the first time they meet you, you are setting the scene (pun intended) for the rest of the production run. At your information night and again at first rehearsal I would recommend covering off the following;
- A warm welcome
- Introductions; the production team (include both past experience and clear role definition for this production)
- Set expectations & give a quick explanation of how their respect for your leadership helps the greater cause
- Let people know about the amenities onsite and nearby (…hello coffee!!) to the rehearsal space. Remember not everyone will have been in this venue before (never assume) and you want them to be as comfortable as possible.
- Create a pinned post in your FB Group that sums it all up in case they forget or joined late
- If you have time for a getting to know you exercise, I love to include time to learn about everyone’s muggle jobs. Imagine you find that you have a marketing guru, a carpenter and a make-up artist in your midst!! Knowing your cast well is only going to help the greater good.
Never forget that they are volunteers with the same creative theatrical passion as you.
- When you interact with your cast and crew, are you positive and excited?
- Are you patient and respectful when they voice concerns or complaints?
- Are you in the moment when you talk with them or is your mind somewhere else?
- Do you genuinely care about your people as individuals?
If not, you could be undermining their respect for you and they could start to turn up late, skip rehearsals or even quit.
Make it worthwhile for them
There are few things we can give that are more valuable than our time. Even if cast and crew are showing up to fulfil their own dreams, that doesn’t make their time any less valuable!
- Check your schedule and then check it again and then again and again. It is not something you write once; it is a fluid moving beast. Check it, refine it and keep everyone informed.
- People definitely don’t clear their schedule to stand around! Make sure there is actually enough for everyone to do before they show up. The more often you leave them standing around the more despondent they can become.
- Consider having a plan B list of things to be done and if you see a group of people with nothing to do at rehearsal look at options for them to help out in another way (remember those muggle skills!)
When you give people ways to contribute that they personally enjoy or feel that they’re qualified to do, it’s much more likely that their experience will be a positive one.
Remember that we all have busy lives outside of the production, just like you do! Be considerate.
Being flexible can be hard and may seem like you’re giving away too much control. But a little bit can go a long way; your flexibility should be appreciated and can generate a greater incentive to catch up on something they miss. They will be more focused and dedicated to show their appreciation.
Praise the progress
Often times all we hear is ‘we haven’t done this yet, we still have that to do etc’ I would suggest that some positive reinforcement will help you to boost morale, remember a happy cast will sell more tickets. Remind them that last week they didn’t know a single step but this week they are part way through a new dance etc
Have you ever heard this quote?
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
Think about how this philosophy applies to your cast and crew of volunteers…
If you really want to earn their respect and want them to turn up on time and to task, remind them what’s at stake and why their personal contributions are making a difference.
Say thank you
This might sound obvious but this is really important and surprisingly often overlooked in community theatre.
Remember once again that everyone is volunteering their time.
I am sure you appreciate it when someone thanks you; your cast and crew deserve well-intended thanks for their time and effort. This makes them much more likely to continue those efforts.
Remember, most of your cast have no true aspirations to become pro performers – mostly they are in community theatre as a hobby and for the love of it. Dealing with volunteers has its own nuances and you’ll need to deal with many different personality types.
Creating a great volunteer experience is paramount to have a quality production when the curtain goes up on opening night.
As a Director/Producer, what techniques do you use to keep cast and crew on task and on time?
As a Performer, what keeps you motivated to go to rehearsal and chip in?
We’d love to know.
Tell us in the comments.
Have a Fantastix day!