Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I coordinate a group of volunteers for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I sign us up for one performance of each play during the season and we wipe down the tables and chairs, take tickets, hand out programs, usher, bounce, and collect recyclables and trash. In exchange, we get to stake out a spot in the hillside seating (the Festival performs in a lovely outdoor amphitheater) and watch the plays free.

And there you have my ulterior motive. I’d like to say that we volunteer at the Shakespeare Festival for purely altruistic motives. But that would be telling a fib.

We volunteer at the Shakespeare Festival because we love live theater. And even the unreserved hillside seats are almost $30 a pop on a Saturday night. Multiply that by the number of folks in my family and you get a hefty outlay of cash for a night of culture. So we volunteer.

And therein lies the problem: I have a hard time using the word “volunteer” for something like that. I mean, we do the work free. But I feel kind of guilty saying I volunteer for an organization that, well, pretty much caters to the folks in the community with money. I mean, the cheapest seats are $21 before tax on weekdays. If you don’t bring your own picnic meal, the least expensive meal in the cafĂ© will set you back around $10.

Not exactly the kind of thing one usually associates with volunteer work.

Yes, the Shakespeare Festival is a non-profit organization and performs its own community service (including being very generous every time I've asked them to donate to any silent auction I've coordinated for my kids' schools).

But not what I think of as traditional volunteer work.

Oh, sure, we do other volunteer work in our community: the kids and I have served lunch at the rescue mission; we all participate in Rake Up Boise in the fall (raking leaves for the elderly and disabled); I have coordinated my company’s Christmas project the last two years (buying gifts for the residents of the Veteran’s Home and spending an evening there passing out homemade goodies and singing Christmas carols); my daughter and I helped when our company’s Community Service Committee provided dinner to Ronald McDonald House residents.

Since our bank account doesn’t lend a lot of opportunities to donate monetarily, we opt to help our community with our time when we can and those are what I think of as very legitimate volunteer activities.

Am I going to give up volunteering at the Festival? Oh, heck no. Let me see, incredible venue, wonderful and very professional productions, a great family evening of live theater … for free! Versus the slight inner cringe I feel when I say I’m “volunteering” there? The hand-scale weighing the pros and cons is definitely heavier on the pros side.

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