Sunday, November 28, 1999

For all those arts volunteers - a big thank you

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What better time than the holidays for giving thanks? As always, the arts have a lot of thanks to give. Not-for-profits wouldn't exist without the legion of volunteers who are so generous with their time, energy and hearts.

        Topping the list this year are a handful of volunteer efforts that are changing the face of the region:

        Enormous thanks to John Kron, the man who steered the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts' new associate member category into being — with the help of a tireless committee.

        Speaking of committees, the members of the city's arts allocations committee spent most of this year formulating a set of recommendations for city arts programs and policies that could bring city support into the 21st century. Countless hours is not an exaggeration.

        More volunteers devoted themselves to creating a regional cultural plan that is changing into a regional cultural alliance, and the unsung woman dotting the I's and crossing the T's is Gwen Finegan.

        My special thanks go to the dozens of local actors who are working free and on faith to help bring a lot of hopeful new theaters into being. We're beginning to realize a vital theater scene; it wouldn't be possible without them.

        The Fitton Center in Hamilton sends a big thanks to Scott Goebel, the young landscape architect who coordinates the poet-in-residence program and was emcee and slam master for the Riverbank Poetry Project. And to Kittie Weber who coordinates the Fitton's Butler County student poetry competition.

        Lil Hesler makes phone calls, stuffs envelopes, chaperones tours, organizes volunteers for Cincinnati Boychoir and even set up and solicited donations for its silent auction. Art Links' Linda Tresvant says Lee Carter is “volunteer of the century.”

        Marty Polk works at the School for Creative and Performing Arts from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day — then he goes to his real job as a Cincinnati police officer. He comes in weekends and some evenings, moves heavy equipment, prepares and sells lunches, acts as a security guard at events, even refills soda machines. Friends of SCPA's Sandy Orr nominates him for “off-duty heroism.”

        It's time to put Nick Ciafardini in the arts volunteer Hall of Fame. He's been Cincinnati Opera's main man for years, where he's (among many other things) officially an artist liaison to sometimes temperamental stars. Cincinnati Ballet loves him, too. He's the official In-Step assistant, has been the Nutcracker Santa at Kenwood Towne Centre, was instrumental in the Adopt-a-Dancer Family project, has worked box office in a crunch, visits dancers when they're feeling poorly and hands out bouquets at performances.

        The ballet also loves Jeff Corcoran, who's been volunteering since 1978. Among his many, many, many volunteer jobs, he's been a performance production assistant, he's helped rip out floors and install new ones, he's worked audio-visual, he's been the company's emergency medical technician. This year he became the ballet's official archival photographer.

A super job
        Cincinnati Opera says its “supers"' are super. That's supernumerary, the folks on stage who mingle behind the singers. Former Opera Guild president Peggy Kahn rounded up a lot of her friends to make up the majority of the 42 supers in Turn of the Screw. Jack Shreiber is a longtime super who is very often cast as a gladiator because, thanks to his long-distance running, he has great legs.

        Dentist Paul Dirkes, spotted most recently as a maitre d' in La Boheme, rearranges his office hours to accommodate daytime rehearsals. And hats off to Steve Druffel, Ryan Slattery, Jim Waldfogle and James Woods who played corpses in Faust last summer. Their roles demanded that they lie on top of each other on an unpadded wooden cart pulled along a bumpy stage, then dragged off to be dumped downstage. Ouch!

        Robert Gilton's involvement with Landen-Deerfield Theatre Company began before he even moved to Warren County. His son Jeff became a sound engineer and Robert sort of followed along. The Gilton home has been “Construction Set Central” for the past 10 years, 35 productions in all. Their basement stores props, lights, sound equipment and a lot of costumes. Last winter, Mr. Gilton lent a hand to Lebanon Theatre Company even as he was readying for a trip to the hospital and a cancer operation.

        P.S. He also helps with sets for local schools and church groups.

        Diane Johnson has put in more than 20 years of volunteering with Playhouse in the Park, long before there were 600 other volunteers to help out. She's done everything from fund-raising to serving actors meals between shows.

Muse's muses
        Muse Women's Choir couldn't function without volunteers, artistic director Cathy Roma says. She especially thanks treasurer June Huelskamp and Ruth Rowan, the choir's interpreter for the hearing impaired.

        Kim Humphries thanks “all the artists and friends who helped me turn a 10-page outline into a seven act performance!” of the rockin' multimedia performance that was Guillambardo's Hams in a West End warehouse. He adds thanks to the city and other sponsors and Semantics Gallery and everybody who attended “for taking a leap of faith.”

        At Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Linda Maupin took on educational outreach duties (including developing a study guide) for Earhart,and Donna Wymore gets credit for creating a “brand identity” for the Over-the-Rhine theater. Downtown Theatre Classics calls John Wolff “indispensable.” He runs the volunteer program and assists in every area of production and administration, from set construction to envelope licking to truck driving.

        Volunteers don't come more “committed, energetic or caring” than Priscilla Faux, says Summerfair's Kevin Reynolds. Lois Deitschel is “a loyal and vital force” at Cincinnati Art Museum where she leads the 82 gallery aides, initiated the Brush Up training program and serves on the Visitor Services Council.

        Joseph Flege and Beverly Mussari were among the founders of the Northeast Arts Council in the late '80s and helped create Festival in the Woods at Raymond Walters College. The council dissolved years ago, but Mr. Flege and Ms. Mussari are the reason the visual arts aspect of the festival — a month-long exhibit including hundreds of works from 33 schools in 12 school districts — has thrived.

In store at CAC
        Who is that man at the Contemporary Arts Center's store? It's Mark Pierce (volunteer since 1986) who can always be found moonlighting at the center when he's not working upstairs at Mercantile Library. Leila Spriggs has not only logged more CAC tours than just about anybody else, these days she's spearheading efforts to strengthen and reorganize the program in preparation for the opening of the new Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art.

        Mark Fox faxed in from Sausalito, Calif., where he's doing an artist residency at Headlands Center to say Saw Theater's most recent performance couldn't have happened without puppeteers Terry Berlier and Mike Dekoekkoek for stage construction “and hours and hours of unpaid rehearsal and performance time.” Thanks, too, to Leslie Klahn, Jim Keller and Sandye Utley.

        Above and beyond the call of duty — that's how the Children's Theatre typifies Bob Vidal, who saw the company through a strategic planning process with “patience, humor, dogged determination and candor.”

        Edgar Smith came to Theatre IV ArtReach as a business volunteer for the arts (BVA) in 1998. He's the “driving force” behind the theaters human services work in the region. He's now the president of ArtReach's board. “He's an amazing individual and we're blessed to have him in our corner,” associate artistic director Kelly Germain says.

        Michael Malenock was also a BVA, assigned to The Carnegie. His computer wizardry has changed life at the Covington arts center.

        Northern Kentucky Symphony says everybody can thank Barb Runge and Carol Beddie as co-chairs of the annual gala for those free summer concerts in Devou Park. With an office staff of two, the symphony is grateful to its volunteers, especially house manager Leslie Bauer and the five Ladies from Mount Washington who usher at all subscription, education and summer concerts — and have done since the symphony began.

Drama Workshop workers
        Marty Mehring (and husband Bob) joined Drama Workshop 39 years ago and she's been ticket chairman just about ever since. When she wasn't taking mail-in and phone orders she was handing out tickets at the box office. In her spare time she's produced more than 20 shows, and she's a wiz at designing and building sets. Recent loss of sight has forced Mrs. Mehring into semi-retirement from her volunteer duties, but Drama Workshop couldn't love her more.

        When Andrea Dixon moved to Cincinnati last year she searched for a way to become involved in the community and — became a BVA. She was matched with Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and was assigned to create a gala from scratch. She's also an ace at getting donations for the theater company, including a copier.

        It seems as if all John Kachuba's free time is given over to volunteer activities, most of them arts-related. He's the founder and chairman of the Arts & Cultural Council of Greater Loveland and founder and program coordinator for the Writers' Voice project with the Northeast YMCA.

        The Arts Services Office (home of the BVA program) thanks Charles Eilerman for serving as chair of the Community Arts Fund since its reorganization in 1996. “Chuck is an ARDENT and VOCAL advocate of the smaller arts,” ASO's Heather Hallenberg says. Heather Scheibelhut is a heroine to Stage First Cincinnati where she is resident stage manager when she's not a full-time student who also has a real job.

        Cincinnati Museum Center's volunteer army is more than 1,000 strong. Along with the trains, trolleys and inclines in new exhibit Cincinnati in Motion, there's a model city with more than 100 fire escapes. The man who assembled them is Harry Rapien.

        Bev Hater has logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours with the Museum Center since she signed on in 1996; Leon Drake Sr., most lately a Civil War re-enactor for Living History weekends, and Pat Cordes, invaluable in general and during Mysteries of Egypt in particular, also put in hundreds of hours a year.

        Jackie Demaline is Enquirer theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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