Info You Can Use: Playing With Your Volunteers

About a month ago I wrote about how our accreditation team used games to get the leadership ready for the accreditation process coming up this year. I had noted that while accreditation is a pretty oppressive and mind numbing subject, the games made learning about it easier. I had suggested that this was a good approach for tackling administrative and governance processes.

This weekend, we actually used a similar approach during the much more pleasant process of volunteer training so I thought I would share what we did.

We held a brunch in our lobby. My assistant theatre manager and I made Belgian waffles and pancakes to order for our volunteers (we also had eggs, breakfast meats and a pretty good toppings bar.) After eating our fill, we talked about the upcoming season of shows and why each was so interesting.

Then we had a scavenger hunt which actually proved to be a good tool for making people more aware of many aspects of their jobs and the theatre building. Some of the questions were just fun and silly like getting a picture of a prop backstage and some information from a set model. Others were more directly related to things we wanted our volunteers to know.

For example we asked how many theatre seats were in a row that had empty spots for wheelchairs so they were aware that the number on the right most seat wasn’t actually the seat count for the row.

Because there is construction next to the theatre we had them take a picture of one of the large signs directing people along the detour from the disabilities parking to the lobby which forced the volunteers to walk the path a wheelchair would have to follow.

We asked for the name of the person who sponsored the Green Room so that the volunteers knew where the green room was and were familiar with the name of one of our important donors.

And of course, we made sure they knew that most crucial of all information–where the bathrooms are–by making them count all the stalls available for use by audience members. (Which also helped them know which restrooms had the most capacity.)

I think this was a much more effective technique to simply giving a tour and pointing things out because it forced the volunteers to pay closer attention to the surroundings as they sought out our grand piano and the 2005-2006 season brochures hidden around the building. It also promoted team work and helped the volunteers bond over activities other than ripping tickets and stuffing program books.

Though to be clear, this doesn’t replace our orientation tours. Every volunteer is given a tour of the facility which points out the location of emergency exits and life safety equipment along with instruction about the procedures.

Nearly all of the volunteers are interested in going around the building again if provided the opportunity. Opening all the doors and turning on all the lights to let them scurry around looking for things changes their relationship with the facility and infuses the experience with a bit of the playfulness and fun that characterize the arts.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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