The Theatre Corps: communities of volunteers

Volunteering is a key concept for American theatres and a perk for all the parts involved.  The theatres’ sizes and the importance they attach to their volunteers lead to different notions of community.

San Francisco Playhouse website


Volunteering plays an important part in theatre. San Francisco Bay Area theaters  like Golden Thread Productions, Shotgun Players, the African-American Shakespeare Company, the Magic Theatre, the San Francisco Playhouse, the California Shakespeare Theatre and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, all resort to volunteering. The way these theatres see this help, the people who take part in it however, and the extent to which they are considered a community varies from one organization to another. How can this be?

From Family to Integrative Community

Links between the members of the volunteering group and the theatres they gave their time to were very different depending on the size of the theatre. On small theatres’ websites, volunteers are seen as a group and a part of the theatre. In bigger theatres such as the San Francisco Playhouse, the theatre is seen as a family, which implies strong links between its members, and the volunteers are considered a part of this family, meaning that they probably share these links. And finally, in very important theatres such as the California Shakespeare Theatre or the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the theatre and the volunteers are seen as two distinct communities but which can get involved with each other. Therefore, the size of the organization is relevant in the way theatres perceive their volunteers. In big theatres, volunteers will be more considered as a community per se than in small theatres.

Volunteering is Participating

Theatres encourage “in-time” donations or volunteering because this form of participation helps them exist. Indeed, they do not only need financial donations, they also like people to give a bit or a lot of their time to help them in the daily operations of the organization. In a study untitled “Culture and volunteering”  volunteers are considered a key public face of theatres. For example, they make sure everything runs smoothly during a representation and the good image of the theatre and its organization partly depends on them. But volunteers are much more than just a face and apart from ushering and managing the box office, volunteers have access to other important roles in theatres. Indeed, they can be assigned administrative, technical or even artistic tasks such as promoting artistic programs, helping the marketing department or creating sets and costumes.

Volunteering Perks

Volunteers participate freely because they are given different kinds benefits in exchange. Looking at the names of the sections on the websites shows that in relatively small theatres, volunteering is seen as an opportunity for people who are willing to become theatre professionals to really get involved in the life of the theatre and thus acquire an experience. Some organizations like the African American Shakespeare Company and the California Shakespeare Theatre also both see in-time donations as a means of sharing values either by pointing to those that the volunteers bring in and match theirs or to those that can be gained thanks to volunteering.


California Shakespeare Theatre website

Key support for theatres

But volunteers primarily offer a lot of benefits to theatre organizations. First of all, they have an economic impact. Even if this cannot be quantified, we can suppose that having people work for free is a considerable gain of money for the theatre. Furthermore, and as a recent study showed that “cultural volunteers are more likely to donate their money on top of their time when compared with the total volunteer population”, so it is also a way to get more “in-kind” donations. Indeed, when looking at the websites of big theatres such as the California Shakespeare Theatre, we noticed that the title of the section suggested that volunteering was mainly a way to support the theatre and that the benefits went to the theatre and not especially to the volunteers.

Websites and Volunteering, a Connection to Improve  

From user-friendliness and interactivity to the amount of data provided, volunteering however is not a means of participating theatre websites really attach any importance to.  In fact, none of the seven theatre websites was using web design and layout as a way to attract volunteers. Whether they are big or small theatres, the content of their volunteering sections is not highlighted at all and very few images illustrate the pages. Moreover, the data on the subject is very limited on most of the websites. However, even if it is only slightly noticeable, the bigger the theatre the more information you get on volunteering. The California Shakespeare Theatre and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre are the two most important theatres in the sample in terms of size, and it is on their volunteering sections that one can find the most amount of information on the topic.



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