Here at Civic Theatre we often say “we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our volunteers.” On a daily basis, volunteers can be found throughout this building contributing their time to ensure the magic of Civic Theatre. Whether it’s using their skills for thousands to see up in our costume shop or greeting a new guest when they arrive for a show, their mark can be felt and seen throughout this organization.
We are lucky enough to have some extremely loyal volunteers like Tom and Karen Weaver. They are in their 46th year of volunteering at the theatre. We caught up with them to hear more about their involvement and what this place still means to them after all these years.
When did you start volunteering for Civic Theatre?
We were married in 1971 and in 1972 we ordered season tickets to the theatre which was then located on Leonard Street. We soon noted that we had friends who ushered for the shows and that they saw the shows for FREE! For us that was a rather big deal. So, in 1973 we began our volunteering in the old theatre on the same night as our friends. Our routine was delightful…dinner at Vitale’s Restaurant and then ushering for the show. In the 1970s, Civic moved to the old Majestic Theatre and became an early piece of the Arts scene that had started to emerge downtown. The Cottage Bar became our new before and after destination! A few more friends joined the group and we became regulars for the second Saturday performances. We are now in our 46th year.
Many of our volunteers talk about Civic Theatre as a family. Have you seen this in your own lives?
In 2011 Tom was in a major motorcycle accident on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. He was in North Carolina trauma for 2 weeks. When we arrived back in Grand Rapids, a box of Harry and David Fruit welcomed us…from the Civic Theatre staff. Tom’s life was in the balance for several months and when he left Mary Free Bed Hospital in a wheelchair, Civic Theatre was ready for us. That year Fred and Lena Meijer funded the renovation of the theater, making it totally accessible-a gift for us and for all patrons. Now, instead of ushering, Tom works the Will Call booth, and I usher, and we work the door for special performances.
For people who aren’t familiar, tell us about your volunteer roles.
FRONT OF THE HOUSE: for us this means that we get to be the first to interact with the audience s they enter the building. Our favorite front of house events are the low sensor events, family education performance, and anything that involves children’s first exposure to the magic of theatre. WILL CALL, DOOR, USHER: we greet the patrons, answer questions, show them the restrooms, offer programs, show them child seats. We get to compliment children and calm those with walkers or other assistance devices. Our job is to take them from the street to their comfy seats in the most beautiful venue in the city (arguably). Best job for sure!
Difficult question but what has been your favorite show?
Now, that has been a discussion! Ragtime is likely it. Although Fences a couple years ago was incredibly powerful. Beauty and the Beast was just crazy energetic and fun (Lumiere…holy cow!) We also loved All The Way this year…a powerful dramatic piece which was an educational gift to our community.
When you aren’t volunteering for us, what are you up to?
Both of us are teachers. Most of Tom’s career was spent at Jenison Public High School in the Math department and now he teachers Math at Grand Rapids Community College. He is an avid hand cycle competitor and races in most local races (RiverBank, GR Marathon, 1 in 5 Race, East Grand Rapids).We credit Mary Free Bed’s Adaptive Sports Programs for the incredible opportunities they provide to our community. I ended my formal career in Jenison Public Schools teaching the Gifted and Talented Program. The program focused on developing voice and empowerment for students. Now, I take daily yoga classes, assist with Calvin College’s Food Recovery Network (donating uneaten cafeteria food to local missions and non-profits), and work in various schools instructing Sustainable Living classes.
Together, we are keenly involved in ArtPrize and every year host several ArtPrize Artists in our home for the length of the event. It is a total pleasure to meet and develop relationships with Artists from around the country and, in a sense, be ambassadors of our wonderful city. We do all that we can to make their stay pleasant and wrinkle-free. The public has little awareness of the personal sacrifices that artists make to share their work with our community. We also travel, travel, travel. Amazing how accessible our country is. We max out summer vacation! (Although the wheelchair has caused us to give our tent away). Our children live out of state…and we do love them.
You are both busy and passionate about lots of great causes in this community. Why Civic Theatre? What does it mean to you?
We recognize the HUGE impact of theater in the development of the child…empathy, social education, development of joy, humor. I actually performed in a show with our daughter several years ago (James and the Giant Peach) just to get the whole picture. After that, the Front of the House was just fine! We were both involved in Jenison’s outstanding Theater Program. Tom actually played FDR in Annie in his wheelchair! Cool, huh?
For us theater has always been transformative. We leave every performance richer, more aware, connected. Theater is total teamwork. We love situations where every job is important and validated; where every voice is heard, where community has ownership, and where we are constantly surprised and delighted by something new. That is Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.
A healthy community has theater. We are proud to be a part of that. My best days are days that have surprises and delight in them…every Civic Theater Day is one of those days.
Thank you to Tom and Karen for sharing your volunteer story. We appreciate the years of dedication to making Civic Theatre a more inclusive, hospitable place!