Alex Theatre to update volunteer program

The Alex Theatre is ushering in changes to its program that trains and manages the volunteers who take tickets and show patrons their seats.

First, all potential ushers must now attend an orientation session, where they will learn about what is expected of them and the various procedures that must be followed, according to Betty Jean Morris, the newly-named event services manager at the Alex.

Two orientation sessions are coming up – one at 7 p.m. on Monday and the other 7 p.m. on Dec. 9.

At the end of the session, each usher must sign a form agreeing to volunteer at least once a month as well as follow other rules including a dress code that includes a white shirt or blouse, black pants or skirt and a jacket or cardigan.

"It can't be jeans or stripes or anything like that," Morris said, adding that open-toes shoes are also prohibited.

Morris had been the acting house manager at the Alex the first six months of this year until the theater closed for a major expansion project. She has many years of experience in administrative roles at Pasadena Playhouse, Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and Southcoast Repertory, so she began taking notes on changes she would like to suggest.

When the Alex began preparing to reopen for the holiday season, Morris was promoted and was able to personally implement improvements she wanted to make.

The first change was to give ushers a title. They are now called "ambassadors," Morris said.

In addition to more structure for what's expected of ushers, there is also a new incentive program.

Every time, a usher volunteers, they receive a point. Once they reach 12 points, they get two tickets to a performance of their choice, Morris said.

They also get a raffle ticket each time they volunteer. At the first performance of each month, a raffle will be held and the winner receives a gift certificate donated by a local business, Morris said. The first gift card will be to Damon's Steakhouse.

Sometimes a performance will be added at the last minute, and an Alex representative will make calls to see who can volunteer for what's called a "help wanted" performance, Morris said, and the ushers who sign up will each receive two points.

"These are things that they work for," Morris said. "We're not paying them. We have to give them something."

One other change is that purses can't be carried when performing usher duties. All purses must be left in the ushers' room, Morris said.

Also, ushers who stay and watch a performance for free will have a designated area where they will sit, probably at the back of the house, so they use their small flashlights to show help late-comers find their seats as quickly as possible.

The program also has some consequences which weren't in place before Morris took the reins.

If an usher is late or doesn't show up six times in six months, they may be removed from the program, Morris said.

If an usher cancels 12 times in six months, they may be taken off the usher list.

Morris added that removal isn't automatic. "I'm going to work with them. I'm not going to just drop them," she said.

Elissa Glickman, chief executive officer of the Alex, said the changes have been a long time coming.

"I think they're incredible," Glickman said, adding that theater officials spent a great deal of time during the Alex's closure focusing on the patron experience.

"Our ushers and front-of-house staff are [the] first impression that patrons have when they come to the theater," Glickman said. "They're just as important to the process as the show itself."

To sign up for an upcoming orientation session, email housemanager@alextheatre.org or call 818-243-7700, ext. 218.

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Follow Mark Kellam on Twitter: @LAMarkKellam.

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