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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How does one maintain order among volunteers?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (33047points) November 16th, 2011

I’m directing a play. It’s the first time I’ve directed, and I’m enjoying myself.

I have one area that is not going well. We aren’t starting on time.

How do I discipline a bunch of people who are volunteering their time? Everybody has busy schedules. Am I herding cats? (No, that’s what it’s like to direct a bunch of drag queens. I know. I’ve seen that as a drag queen myself.)

Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

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10 Answers

Blueroses's avatar

Oh boy, do I know where you’re coming from!
With community theater or animal rescue, the issues with volunteers are the same. You are happy to have them but if they can’t commit to a schedule, they’re useless.

You need to call a meeting ASAP and set out your expectations. Get commitments for time and discard the volunteers who need too many considerations unless they can commit a full weekend to sets/costumes. If your volunteers are missing at crucial times, dismiss them. You treat them as staff and certainly appreciate their donation of time but that donation is worthless if it doesn’t match your needs. You can not build a production around people who are unreliable. At the end of the show, have the volunteer’s breakfast served by the actors.

whitetigress's avatar

Just say everyone needs to get here on time or you will be taken off the list. That’ll point out how important it is just say you do that because its important to hear instructions the first time around, its why there is a time to meet in the first place. Most likely you’re working with college kids so they will learn some valuable real life experience right there.

zensky's avatar

I hear ya, buddy. I have no idea – I have only instructed in the army – it’s much easier when you bark orders and everyone jumps to attention, literally.

I would probably suck at directing volunteers – I would get too frustrated.

Keep us posted.

Blueroses's avatar

If it’s actors you’re dealing with, stress the importance of being on time for rehearsals and follow up by recasting. Even a community theater production counts and there are many people ready to step into a role. Do you want a talented diva who disrupts the entire rehearsal schedule or a malleable newbie who will take every note to heart in your production?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

It’s the actors. They are simply coming late to rehearsals, because they have busy lives.

However, tonight, one didn’t show up at all, and in a show with only 4 actors, that’s devastating.

Blueroses's avatar

Bring in the understudy and let him/her do the role. If the person you cast doesn’t bother to show up again, the understudy gets the part. You can’t support sloppy entitlement in a volunteer production. The understudy will be happy to get the chance and you just might get a better performance. I’ve been in 3 productions where a lead was replaced to the betterment of the show. Fuck ‘em if they can’t be bothered.

Really. Replace one and watch the fear of God (director) affect the others. :)

AdamF's avatar

My wife and I ran a field station in Bolivia for a couple of years, and had previously worked as volunteers for multiple ecology projects in the tropics. I’ve also worked as a volunteer (with many others) in several theatre productions.

Never did I or others assume that because we were volunteers that somehow meant we had less responsibility… or that we didn’t have to do what was expected of us, and likewise, we said goodbye to volunteers who couldn’t live up to what was required of them (and we required a hell of a lot)....

A goal requiring a conhesive team, requires a cohesive team, paid or not. and once you accept the arrangement, as long as it is honestly spelled out before hand…(ie I will volunteer my time, work with the team not against it, work the hours required, and in return I will get valuable experience that Im seeking), then the volunteers/actors have a responsibility to live up to their agreed commitment.

At the same time, if people have jobs then their prime responsibility is to their employer, not you. But they knew this when they agreed to the rehersals.

So may I suggest that if the timing of rehersals is turning out to be too close in proximity to their work time, that you sit down and have a meeting and come to some compromise with respect to rehersal hours.

I also think you have to remind them very soon and very clearly of their responsibilities, and get rid of anyone who is giving an indication that they aren’t reliable or willing to do what’s required. It’ll send a message to the others…

It might also be worthwhile emphasizing that you’re volunteering too…which presumably you are?

Basically, get everyone together and reclarify what’s required of them. Get it all out on the table, or the play could bomb.

Break a leg!

JilltheTooth's avatar

I know you’ve acted in productions that this group has done, do you remember these problems from other plays? Maybe talk to the directors of those events and get some tips.

marinelife's avatar

It is a tough thing. How serious are you? You could create a fine system. A quarter for every five minutes late. Use the money for the cast party.

Or, you could threaten (but you have to willing to carry it out) to drop anyone from the cast who is late three times.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Thank you all. I’ve come up with a system based on some ideas here and some I thought of myself to keep rehearsals going smoothly. I’ve also sent out a stern but diplomatic email.

It’ll work out. I’m sure.

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