Some of the hardest working employees at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts are actually not employees at all. They are volunteers. Whenever guests have questions about the show, need help finding their seats, or just navigating the theatre, they go to the experts at hand, the ushers. With an average of 150 ushers rotating between the performing arts center's nearly 80 shows a year, the individuals that best know the ins and outs of the theatre are all volunteers.
With duties ranging from greeting guests, scanning tickets, helping patrons find their seats or even assisting artists with merchandise sales, the ushers volunteer their time to the performing arts center, all because they love the arts.
Phil Drake, owner of the performing arts center, attends almost every show that performing arts center puts on. During his regular visits to the center, Drake notices the hard work and dedication of the volunteers and considers each of them to be assets to the Drake family. “I really appreciate all the time and care that the volunteers at the Smoky Mountain Center for Performing Arts devote,” said Drake. “They are always so friendly and warm. We couldn't do it without them.”
According to Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts Artistic Director Scotty Corbin, the usher roster includes volunteers from ages 18 to senior adults.
“We would be unable to accommodate the patrons with such specific attention without the help of our ushers,” said Corbin. “We have only eight people on staff at the theatre that already have specific duties during the running of a show or concert, so that one-on-one attention the ushers can provide is very important to making guests feel welcome and attended to.”
Volunteer usher Becky Byrd has been working with the performing arts center almost from the beginning.
"My duties are greeting the people along with three others at the front doors, scanning their tickets and directing them to the area of their seating," said Byrd. "We often need to advise them of information concerning a particular show and if they are there for the first time, we advise them on the various locations in the facility. We are also at the doors during intermission to offer information when requested and we are there after the show to greet people as they leave. I volunteer at all shows when I am available."
With only eight regular staff members, the ushers are responsible for filling any voids that may come up during an activity at the performing arts center.
“The ushers have been an important part of the theatre experience since day one,” said Corbin. “A lot of our ushers have been with us from the beginning and have become part of the Performing Arts Center family. The theatre is very much a cooperative experience and the volunteer ushers are a vital part of each event, working together and creating a wonderful sense of community by coming together for a positive purpose.”
Carol Olson has volunteered with the SMCPA since they first opened and averages working four to five times a month. "Most times I am assigned to the front doors taking/scanning tickets from the patrons," said Olson. "If needed, it is possible to be assigned to other positions.
"I started volunteering as a means of keeping busy. Living alone leaves a lot of open time," she said. "I enjoy meeting the patrons, have made friends of other ushers and the staff at the center.
“The SMCPA is a wonderful venue and we are lucky to have it here in Franklin. Volunteering is a way of giving back to the community."
In addition to helping guests inside of the theatre, the ushers go beyond their duties by being spokespeople for all of Macon County.
“We also feel that this building is an important part of bringing folks from outside the area, so ushers can provide more information to out-of-town guests about the great things to see and do while here better than a pamphlet or brochure can do. In other words, they become personalized tour guides,” said Corbin.
"I am so proud for a town our size to have such a stateof- the-art facility that I want to do what I can to make it as successful as possible," said Byrd. "I enjoy meeting the people and making them feel welcome."
Usher volunteers positions are open to anyone 18 years and older. Training takes place every third Tuesday of each month at the theatre. All ushers must go through a bi-yearly re-train. After training occurs, ushers are free to sign up for events. Amanda Jessup and Nikki Corbin supervise the ushers. For questions, call (828)524-1598 for more information.