For the past few months, my friend Melissa and I have been volunteering at the Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Baltimore.
The Hippodrome Theatre was opened in 1914 as a major Vaudeville and movie theater. Lots of interesting people performed there – including Frank Sinatra. However, as business went down, they focused more on the movie theater. They tore out the side boxes to increase visibility. However, the movie theater went out off of business in 1990. They did a bunch of construction and using pictures, they renovated it to its former state. It became a rental theater and now hosts Broadway Across America shows and Hippodrome Live! shows (normally musical performances).
To usher at the Hippodrome, you fill out a short application and go to the volunteer orientation in September. They’ll give you a login to this website called MyVolunteer and then you sign up for any shifts that you would like to do.
As a volunteer, there are three jobs you can have on any given show: seat usher, door usher, or ticket taker. Ticket taker is probably my favorite job because you get to use this cool machine to scan the tickets. I feel very important. As a door usher, you first block the doors before the house (or the seating area) opens. Then, you look at tickets, give out playbills, and guide people to the correct entrance, the bathroom, elevators, bar, etc. As a seat usher, you are stationed to a certain section of the theater and guide people to their seats.
Being an usher also allows you to understand parts of the show that you don’t see as an audience member. At the beginning of most shows (and sometimes after intermission), there is a seating hold. It’s normally around 10 minutes and during that time, no one can enter the show. Sometimes, it’s because the light of opening the door can disturb the performance of the first song. Sometimes, it’s because it’s dangerous. When I ushered the Lion King, there are characters running throughout the aisles and someone could easily get hit if they were running around. Being outside during the seating hold is really interesting because you get to see the performers getting ready or watch kids that came after the seating hold start dancing to the music.
After the seating hold is over, you are free to watch the show. It’s really incredible that I get to see these shows for free (so excited for Les Miserables in April). The other volunteers are mostly older retirees, but it’s really fun to meet different Baltimore citizens and hear about their experiences in the city. They always tell us funny stories or interesting places to go to eat. One woman told us that she kinda liked Wicked, but she was so excited for American Idiot because she loves Green Day. She could even name all of their albums!
The house managers (or the people in charge of us ushers) are also really cool. They like to joke around- one of them once saw us later that week at Trader Joe’s and said, “Here comes trouble!”. They tell jokes when telling us all the details of the show (run time, special things to note, seating holds, any cast changes). They really make it a great environment for volunteering and I am so glad I started.