Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Char Hersh coordinates the volunteers in the Festival’s Welcome Center, the information office on the corner of Main and Pioneer streets. Admittedly a “Shakespeare junky,” Char is a retired nurse who also teaches Tai Chi. We visited one afternoon in her home overlooking Ashland and the hills beyond.
EH: How do you like coordinating volunteers?
CH: It’s allowed me to meet the most marvelous people. It’s very much like nursing. You’re scheduling people, you’re taking care of people, you’re listening to people, you’re trying to make sure people are enjoying what they are doing. It’s teaching. You’re making sure people know what they are doing, because if they don’t, they’re not comfortable. We all want to be engaged and to know what we’re doing is meaningful. I love doing it. And of course it’s supporting the Festival.
EH: What are the different kinds of volunteer activities?
CH: The costume shop is one of them. The archives department is another one. Obviously we have the ushers and the ticket-takers for the Elizabethan Theater, and we have the Welcome Center. There have always been volunteers giving out head sets for the audio of the plays. And there are volunteers who are computer literate and help do all kinds of input. A couple of people created computer programs. They’re geniuses.
The volunteer opportunities are continually increasing. Now we also have people who work with actors on their lines. We even have people who work on some of the sets. There are ushers in the New Theater. We now have only volunteers doing all the mail room service. Also, for incoming directors, actors, or visiting VIPs, it’s very common for a volunteer to take the company van and go to the airport and pick them up. Volunteers put together welcome baskets, too.
We have volunteers who do audio description for blind people. They are assigned one or two plays so that they can describe it to a blind person, because the person can hear the plays, but they can’t see them. You’ve got to describe the action but not while the actors are talking.
EH: How do people find out about these opportunities?
CH: There is a hard copy volunteer application at the reception desk. But 99 percent of the people go to the OSF Web site (orshakes.org), to About Us, then to Job Opportunities. There’s an application. You fill it out. There’s a whole area that describes the kinds of things you’d like to do. Also, it’s the skills you have — if you’re bilingual, for instance. You give all that information and you are entered into the data bank. Then your name goes to the people who take care of the various volunteer areas.
EH: How do new volunteers get contacted?
CH: It’s always first come first served. Sometimes it takes a while until you’re actually volunteering. For instance, I have a long list of people who would like to work in the Welcome Center. I feel it’s my obligation to do two things: one, take them in order; but the other one is to make sure that they really are knowledgeable. If they’ve been here for a while and been attending plays, I call them and ask, “Would you like to get trained?”
EH: Volunteers receive a ticket to each play after 24 hours of work?
CH: You get one ticket to each play during the spring and fall seasons. There’s always meaningful work and people always let you know you’re appreciated.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at email@example.com.