“How can we include more?”

Talking with Volunteer Advocate Aimee Miron

Episode Transcript:

Breana: Have you ever watched a show and wondered, “How did they do that?” There’s a story behind it all. And that is what theatre is all about. Exploring and reflecting on humanity through shared stories and bringing people together. From the talent on stage, to creative collaboration backstage, and community building on all levels– we’re here to share with you how each story becomes part of our greater story. How theatre brings our community together and makes it greater. Welcome to HOW GREAT: The GREAT Theatre podcast.

Keenan: Welcome to episode four of How GREAT: the GREAT Theatre podcast. This episode is going to be unusual in a few ways. First, Breana won’t be joining me for this episode, as she is currently parasailing just off the coast of the Jurassic Park Island. But she should be back for the next episode. What I’m liking about this podcast so far is that I’m learning a lot about the show Grease from so many perspectives. I anticipate that I, and Breana, will learn about every show we talk about from a lot of perspectives, but Grease happens to be the first, and just the amount of time, energy, brain power, and care that goes into the show is really awe inspiring. And today there is even more of that to explore, because today I’m talking with Aimee Miron, who is the Volunteer Advocate for Grease at the Ledge Amphitheater. So, Aimee, it’s nice to have you!

Aimee: I am so excited to be here! Keenan, I predict that I’ll say the word excited maybe twelve times, 14 times during this podcast.

Keenan: I’m very excited to count at the end, see how we do. So at the end, I’ll transcribe this, and I can just do that, like command F and find every excited, and then I’ll tally yours and I’ll take mine out because I may have, like, two or three. I’m already up to more than you, actually.

Aimee: Keenan. That is so exciting.

Keenan: Okay, does exciting count? Are we doing excited, exciting, excite, like, all variations?

Aimee: I think all variations on a theme.

Keenan: Okay, yeah, we’ll count them all.That seems fair.

Aimee: Variations on a theme are exciting.

Keenan: Yeah. What else is exciting? This segue! You are in a new position for Grease. You are the Volunteer Advocate.

Aimee: Doesn’t it sound cool?

Keenan: It does sound cool.

Aimee: Volunteer advocate. Yeah. This role has been in my mind for a while. I have a nine year relationship with GREAT Theatre. I started out as a volunteer actor myself. I was in a production of Les Mis, and I have to share this little story with you. If that’s okay.

Keenan: Yeah, I’d love that.

Aimee: Okay, so we’re in this production of Les Mis, and for people who are not familiar with the show, the story follows this man who’s been convicted of a crime, and at the top of the show, he leaves jail and he travels throughout the countryside. He meets a priest, and then he eventually gets to Paris, where the story takes place. Well, sometimes in the theatre we tell our story and we give our sense of location and setting through our actors in different costumes. I was cast in the ensemble for Le Mis, and I had to do six costume changes in 20 minutes.

Keenan: Wow.

Aimee: Exciting, right?

Keenan: Who doesn’t love that?

Aimee: So the first day of tech, we have all of our costumes. We bumble along like you do. You’re like wearing the wrong skirt? Maybe you’ve got your shirt on backwards. Where’s the hat? I don’t know.

Keenan: There’s a sock coming out of your shoe as you walk.

Aimee: Exactly. You barely make it on time to sing your solo. It’s that kind of show. So I went home kind of in a panic, and I was like, what can I possibly do? How can I help myself through this moment? So I sat down and I wrote out every costume that I could think of, every piece in every single moment. And essentially, I made myself a run sheet is what we kind of call it. And I came to the theater the next day and I had my little cheat sheet ready to go, shepherding me through this moment. And it made me feel more confident. It made me feel better. It was a safety net for me that I needed. And so when I think about this volunteer advocate role, I think about it in that same way. Someone who is there to be a safety net, to be a facilitator of an idea, to help with hard conversations, to help with hard moments that can sometimes happen to performers and crew and team backstage to help support the full success of the show.

Keenan: Yeah, definitely.

Aimee: So that’s sort of what I think the role is.

Keenan: And I think a big part of it, from what I’ve seen, is while shows are generally very positive and very happy go lucky, there’s a lot of stress backstage and a lot of, I kind of want to say reluctance to communicate. I think because of that stress and because everything is so time sensitive and there’s a beat where every single thing needs to happen, it’s like, I really don’t have time to go and have a five minute conversation about what just upset me, or about my concerns for what needs to happen next. So I think that’s huge to have someone else who has that time built in.

Aimee: Yeah, that’s what the role is for. One of the things that I am so passionate about GREAT Theatre is the volunteers. It is so amazing as a performer, as a volunteer myself, as a director, as an educator, to watch what our community does. They come together in this amazing way, and they create this once in a lifetime thing. And I know that everybody here at GREAT wants to caretake that relationship. It’s so important time and time again. But I think also there’s another additional piece– you as a volunteer come to the table with your lifetime’s worth of experiences, your perspectives, your points of view. You have things to share. And it’s our job, I feel, to facilitate a way for you to be your biggest success here. And that is the magic of GREAT. That is the magic. Someone who works a receptionist job or is a student or as a nurse or a teacher can come in and create a beautiful costume out of whole cloth or has a plan for how to solve a problem backstage if we only listen. I think there is magic in that.

Keenan: Yeah. It has a potential to really be transformative.

Aimee: Definitely.

Keenan: Instead of just creative, which I don’t mean just creative. Creative is huge. But transformational is also huge.

Aimee: Yeah. Because what does that say about you? Then you get to walk away from this experience saying, I contributed and I made a difference. I think I want to go back, though, too, to that communication and time piece that you’re talking about. I love Tech Week. I adore being a director, and I adore the rehearsal process.

Keenan: With your experience directing, would you mind speaking to why Tech Week is stressful, or popularly considered to be stressful, too? Sorry, I derailed you. I meant to add that into what you’re saying.

Aimee: Absolutely. It’s my favorite part of the process as a director, because suddenly all of these things that are in our mind and that we’re imagining become realized. And then you put the pressure cooker on, because it’s a finite amount of time that we have to realize the dream, basically, and everybody plays a role in it. And it’s so exciting to finally be sharing space with all of your volunteers, with your crew, with your cast, with all of your designers, your producers, so that everybody gathers together and we’re all working toward the same goal to make this amazing idea. But you are 110% right. It comes down to communication and prioritization. So if we say, oh, in this scene, we want Mary Poppins to fly back and forth across the stage several times, holding the children in her arms with her umbrella and a carpet bag, that’s a pretty lofty goal.

Keenan: That’s a tall order.

Aimee: It’s a pretty lofty goal. We have to decide if that is the thing we want to spend the most time on, or is it okay for the story if we just have Mary come in by herself without her carpet bag, maybe just her umbrella, safely land on the stage, and continue the story because we want to put our time into step in time, for example? I think that is the thing about Tech that’s so exciting, because as a director, you have all of these big brain ideas, and then Tech Week is about distilling the story down to its most perfect for this moment.

Keenan: What do you think makes Tech Week different for volunteers than for someone who’s kind of watching… somebody who’s had the dream of this entire big picture coming together and completed? I don’t mean to suggest that volunteer actors don’t have that, or that volunteer crew or anyone doesn’t have an idea of what the show will look like. But it’s, I think, quite different for somebody who works a full time job that has nothing to do with theatre and then comes here and dives into a tech week.

Aimee: That is such an exciting question. And it’s twofold, because when we talk about a volunteer actor’s experience versus volunteer crew, there are two very separate experiences that they’re having. And perhaps you’ve experienced this, I think you were on crew for a show.

Keenan: I was on crew for Matilda, yeah.

Aimee: And so you’re seeing a totally different experience because the volunteer actor starts six weeks, perhaps eight weeks if you count the prep work that they put into auditioning, in getting to know the story, building a character, building relationships between themselves, the team, their fellow actors. Crew have a different experience. They’ll perhaps pop in and see what we call a designer run, which is a run through of the show toward the end of the rehearsal process.

Keenan: Okay, so near complete.

Aimee: Near complete. It’s just sort of like to give them a taste of what the story is about. And then they come in and have perhaps one week, two, or in the case of Grease, three days, to help fulfill the needs of the story in very detailed ways. And those details are being worked out in the moment.

Keenan: Right.

Aimee: And so that experience for that crew person can be extremely– I can imagine it can just feel like a whirling dervish. Like things are just happening left and right. You’re like, am I supposed to help here? Am I supposed to go over there? Who needs what right now? What can I do? Have I eaten today? Those kinds of things are definitely as a volunteer advocate, those things are on my radar that I want to have. Radar is the best word. I just want to put that in focus and that spotlight for those actors and for those crew members so that we can help them have the best experience and succeed at what they signed up to do.

Keenan: To walk away from it feeling as though they contributed, or knowing that they contributed, meaningfully and that the show was a success partially because of them.

Aimee: Because of them. Yeah. Because it’s not just the lead. It’s not just the director. It’s each and every one of us playing a role that is specific and vital. I don’t know, as a director that at the Paramount, I have ever I can’t think Keenan. I don’t think I have ever I’ve been up to the fly rail, but I have never flown anything in or out. So I can learn things, too. Like, we can all learn new things. And I think that’s the joy of theatre. But the big thing is that it’s okay that the director or the actor doesn’t know how to do the fly rail because there’s somebody who does and somebody who wants to do that, and it’s essential to telling the story.

Keenan: Yes, but it is such a small amount of time for somebody who is a volunteer who has never operated a fly rail as well, to learn. Well, first, here’s the kind of language of the theater, the lingo, the timing of the language, because a lot of the language relates to when you’re supposed to do something. So there’s that layer as well.

Aimee: And then you hear those ominous words over the God mic: Hold. And hopefully it’s hold comma, please. But if we don’t have a lot of time, it’s just hold, right? And so you hear those ominous words and you’re like, Is it me? Is it me? You’re sort of looking around your shoulder and like, oh, no, but no. I think the reason why this role exists is because everybody here at GREAT, from leadership on down, really values our volunteers. And it’s exciting. I have a little secret, and it won’t be a secret anymore because we’re recording this podcast, but I hope that this role continues for all productions.

Keenan: I was going to ask that was something I was interested in asking next is, do you think it would? So I now know that you hope. Yeah. And too, why do you think that this role emerged with Grease for the first time?

Aimee: Well, it’s interesting. I did not participate in Cinderella at the Ledge last year, but I know that many of the team who are on Grease did participate in Cinderella. And after every show, each team takes some time to pause and reflect, that’s part of the learning process. And then we have a debrief after each show where everybody sort of gathers together and talks about what went well, what could be improved for next time. And I think one of the things that this role was born out of is what can we do better next time? I know that even at the Paramount or even here at the lab, the chasm that exists during Tech Week, when a performer is used to having their director, their choreographer, right there in the room with all the lights on, giving them nods, smiles, verbal feedback, that kind of dissipates during Tech Week because of the distance. The team needs to be in the house watching the entire production.

Keenan: The house here, meaning the seating area, basically the actual venue of it all.

Aimee: Yeah. The audience. Sitting in the audience, looking at the full picture. Thank you for that.

Keenan: Yeah, I’m trying to be good about that.

Aimee: That is super smart, Keenan, because, like, the vocab, like you were saying, right? And that’s a great thing to be on my radar, too, for volunteers.

Keenan: Yeah, for sure. That was a big thing–

Aimee: Who knows the vocab.

Keenan: Right. When I was on Matilda, that was one of the most daunting things, I think, was I remember it was a humbling but also very sweet moment. The cast of Matilda was largely children, and one of them was standing backstage with me, explaining a bunch of the different terms because he was like, when they say fly or fly something, it was fly something. It means you need to move out of the way, because actually, something is coming down. Nothing’s going up. Nothing’s flying away. Something’s really landing when they say that. And it was just such a nice moment for someone to let me in on that.

Aimee: Yes. That isn’t that amazing?

Keenan: It was.

Aimee: Look at that volunteer.

Keenan: Yeah. Right. Stepping into this other role and making a difference in how I can perform my actual job.

Aimee: I love that. I love everything about that. I love everything about that. Right. So there’s this gap that exists, and no matter how hard we try, the directing team is still sitting out there in the darkness, and the cast isn’t getting immediate feedback or like you were talking about before, perhaps somebody needs to troubleshoot something with a team member, be it a Stage Manager, be it a Choreographer. And it doesn’t feel, due to the pressure cooker, like there’s time. What I hope my role is in this coming week is to help, like I said, facilitate that togetherness. So if a performer is saying, I’m really confused, and they need to spend three or two minutes with Nick to clarify how something works or operates or talk to props or anything like that, I hope to facilitate those conversations next week so that there’s a sense of confidence.

Aimee: The other thing, too, is one of my favorite things about being involved in theatre. I often say this– I love theater, and I practice this art because I love working with humans. And I think that we all have to acknowledge that when we come together and share space, we are all coming from lots of different angles. Where maybe you had a stressful day at work and you still have to come to rehearsal and perform. Or maybe you had a great day at work and you’re coming into a group of strangers and you don’t feel like you have anybody to share it with. That relationship piece is vital to the success of the work that we do. And so that piece is sort of intangible, but having somebody backstage that you can go to if you say, I had a really hard day today, I’m not feeling 110%, I just need to take a break here and there. I can relay that to the team so that they know what’s going on on an individual level, because they want to know, because they care deeply. Hopefully, that will be part of the role, too.

Keenan: Cool. Yeah. I mean, the difference, even in just walking into a room and knowing that there’s one person who would like to hear what you’re going through, who would care about that, who wants to know is huge. And knowing that, not just suspecting that.

Aimee: But knowing that, yeah, that’s the role. Sometimes we all in life need a person to vent to or a person to celebrate with. And it’s exciting to think about being that person so that you can just let it go and let it go on me. And if it’s a big deal, we’ll address it. But if it just needed to just come out, great, we move on. We do the next thing.

Keenan: Absolutely.

Aimee: Or if we want to celebrate that we finally hit that note or we finally landed that fly exactly in the right moment, I’m here for it.

Keenan: I think that Grease will be a very exciting show for the first time, having a Volunteer Advocate as well, because it is an outdoor show, and I know from things I’ve heard, because I actually started just one year ago, so it was the week before we opened Cinderella was when I started, and I remember hearing how miserable the heat was for the volunteers out there. And this was too, this was when smoke was rolling through the state every day of the week. And it was very difficult for them.

Aimee: Dangerous, in a way, if you have medical conditions or health conditions that can be triggered by those kinds of factors, that’s huge. So this year we are creating lots of ice packs. I already have probably 200 pounds worth of liquid hydration waiting for next week in my garage. I texted Lacey and I showed her a picture and I said, this is just the starting place.

Keenan: It’s an opening night.

Aimee: Trying to caretake as best we can and then just me backstage. I won’t be focused in the same way as the ASMs (assistant stage managers) and other members of the team. I’ll be watching for things like, this person’s looking like they’re too hot and we need to remove some costume and take a break to sit down for a little bit. So I’ll be watching for those kinds of things.

Keenan: As opposed to watching to make sure the show happens on time.

Aimee: Yeah, no, I’ll just be along for the ride and just ride the waves, whatever they are. But yeah, we’re also trying to caretake people, which is just really lovely to see with offerings of food prior to our tech rehearsals. Next week is supposed to be hot and we want to make sure that people have time to sit and eat and be fully physically at their best to go into rehearsal. So that’s a piece too, that’s on my plate. It’s been fun, like, kind of doing a lot of catering stuff this week in preparation. It’s kind of exciting.

Keenan: Very diverse job, really.

Aimee: Yeah. I think in a way it’s so wonderful. I don’t expect the job to be the same every day, which is so exciting, for sure. It’s fun, and every day there’ll be something new that we’ll have to work our way through.

Keenan: Yeah. It’ll be very exciting. So, when you mentioned kind of… everybody comes into the space as they are, that made me think of something Levi has done. Levi is the facilitator in our Team Dynamics. Team Dynamics is a group that we consult with. They do equity, diversity and inclusion training. We meet with them about every two months, and when we meet with them, we always start by kind of registering where we are in our bodies, making sure that we’re fully present mentally and physically. And if we’re not, then at least knowing that. Is there anything else from the sort of Team Dynamics training or equity, diversity, inclusion training that you’re bringing into this role?

Aimee: Definitely. I think that the role is about inclusion. It is about helping us identify patterns that exist and how we can decide, is this a good pattern?

Keenan: Yeah. Is it serving everyone involved?

Aimee: Or is there a way that we could tweak the pattern to include more? Levi talks about identifying patterns a lot and I think it can be overwhelming, at least for me, to sort of come into diversity, equity and inclusion training and be like, oh my gosh, we have to solve all the problems today. It can feel like that for me sometimes, but when Levi gave us the language of just identifying patterns, noticing that felt like something achievable, like something I can do. I do notice things we all notice.

Keenan: I can’t even help but notice it.

Aimee: Stuff just keeps happening and I see it somehow. And so I think that then what we can do, which is exciting, is ask questions like, hey, I’m noticing a pattern of always releasing the cast five minutes late. Is that something that we need to address? Just being someone there to ask those questions? Like I said, I hope next week every phrase can end with a question. Yeah, question mark. That just to give us an awareness in what can be a very busy time of our intentionality. Because everybody wants to move forward with intention and thoughtfulness, but sometimes we can’t see the forest for the 1950s.

Keenan: Yeah, I think that the question statement is a really good way of putting it, because as I’m thinking of the pressure cooker and sensitivity… the most time consuming form of communication is a question. A statement is so quick.

Aimee: I know, people are going to be so annoyed with me by the end of the week. Amy, stop asking why!

Keenan: Until they need an advocate. Oh, now I kind of get it!

Aimee: But that work has also been such a beautiful experience because we’ve been doing that work with Team Dynamics and Levi for a year. So it does feel like there’s longevity here. There’s a journey that you’re seeing unfold here at GREAT. And being thoughtful is at the core for me, of what diversity, equity and inclusion work is all about, and being aware that you don’t see everything.

Keenan: Yeah, absolutely.

Aimee: And so if we can keep moving forward and that with those things at the front of our minds, like, I can’t see what’s behind me right now. Should I pause and turn around and look? Is there somebody sad in the corner? Is there somebody cheering over here? It’s that work, I think, changing your perspective.

Keenan: Yeah. That’s really beautiful. Thank you.

Breana: For 25 years, GREAT Theatre has been transforming lives through the power of the arts. As a 501c3 nonprofit organization, GREAT Theatre is known for its Broadway musical performances at the Paramount center for the Arts, as a leader in youth arts experiences through Central Minnesota, and for its commitment to community partnerships. It’s the generosity of our community of volunteers, donors, participants, artists and audiences that make GREAT possible. To learn more about GREAT Theatre, visit GREATTheatre.org.