By Katie Hammond

Shakespeare in the Arb (SITA) has produced shows for 16 years now. Some volunteers have been with the show for 10. And why wouldn’t they? For those with a love of theater or of natural spaces, the show provides a fantastic intersection of the two. These attractions, combined with two straightforward but key volunteer tasks, add up to the perfect opportunity to do a little work with a lot to show for it.

Matthaei-Nichols’ student interns and volunteers have the opportunity to work as ushers and in the box office. In exchange for our time, we have the opportunity to see the entire play. Due to the nature of the work, we’re often treated to a sneak peak behind the scenes. And we get t-shirts with SITA’s famous catchphrase “Groundsitters in front, chairsitters in back!”

A Shakespeare in the Arb volunteer with the classic SITA t-shirt, and Director Kate Mendeloff (right, sitting) enjoy the show with members of the audience.

The job can sometimes be stressful. Most ushers help the crowd move from scene to scene. At each scene they ensure that everyone can both see and hear the show. While the actors are excellent at projecting, it can still be a challenge for even the loudest Princess of France to reach the back row. With some crowds numbering over 200, this can be a logistical challenge. Ushers are also responsible for “bouncing” arboretum visitors who have not bought tickets. For bouncers, a Shakespeare performance can be a delicate balance between firmly directing the crowd and not ruining the experience for any particular patron.

But soon the crowd settles, becomes engaged in the play, begins to understand the mechanics of the moving scenes. The cast interacts with the audience flawlessly. They seem a part of the spaces surrounding them. It is easy to see why so many volunteers return year after year.
Intern Sarah Gizzi (right, in Shakespeare t-shirt) usher-wrangling at the first scene. Usher-wranglers drive golf carts, ensuring that the show is accessible to everyone, including those with mobility constraints.

Katie Hammond

Katie Hammond, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently finished the first year in the social work program. Her concentration is social policy and evaluation. At Matthaei-Nichols this summer, Katie works in volunteer services.