Ford's Theatre Seeks Volunteers; Ushers Get Chance to Connect Art, History

Article excerpt

Byline: John Muller, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ford's Theatre is calling for volunteers, an opportunity for people who want to be part of the living history of the nation's capital.

Managers at the 144-year-old theater are hosting a new-usher orientation on Tuesday evening.

Allison Alonzy, the visitors service manager for four years, says, Ushering at Ford's is a way to see high-quality theater for free in a tough economy.

Judy Henderson, a federal government retiree who lives in Forestville, has ushered at Ford's since Ms. Alonzy's arrival. Before joining Ford's Theatre, Ms. Henderson ushered at the Warner Theatre for 13 years. She left when the Warner switched from volunteer ushers to paid staff.

It's a privilege to be involved with Ford's, because it is D.C.'s most unique venue. Being a national historical site and a working theater makes Ford's a wonderful place to serve in the city. It blends a patriotic atmosphere with a love of the arts perfectly, Ms. Henderson said. As a native Washingtonian, it brings a great feeling to see guests to the city eager to visit Ford's Theatre to share in its history and culture.

Ford's Theatre began using volunteer ushers in 2004. Ms. Alonzy inherited a core group of 75 volunteers that is now 500 strong.

In August 2007, Ford's closed for renovations, and the volunteer-usher program was suspended. The Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, which includes the theater and Petersen House, where Abraham Lincoln died after being carried across 10th Street, reopened in February, and some of the volunteer ushers returned. The museum reopened to the public in July, and the National Park Service is also seeking site volunteers to work side by side with rangers.

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Campaign's goal to raise $50 million aided in improving the infrastructure and audience amenities, including a new lobby, a renovated theater, a redesigned museum and the creation of a new Center for Education and Leadership slated to open in 2011. The historic structure's 6,800 square feet of renovated space provides for an enhanced experience for visitors.

As Ford's Theatre continues its expansion, Ms. Alonzy said more volunteers are needed.

Volunteers are the face of the theater. They are our eyes and ears. Sometimes they're the sole entity that patrons see. We rely on our volunteers to be welcoming and enjoy their experience, Ms. Alonzy said.

Word-of-mouth is the main recruitment method, she continued. Calls for volunteers are restricted to occasional posts on Ford's Web site (www. …