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The art of ushering for the Chicago Humanities Festival

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Usher.

Looking to find your way?

The Chicago Humanities Festival can help.

The festival is looking for usher volunteers for the spring theater festival Stages, Sights & Sounds. They need volunteer help for the following shifts:

Wednesday, May 8 from 9:30 am to 2:00 pm for Paige In Full and Under the Stars at the Museum of Contemporary Art- 220 E. Chicago Ave.

Wednesday, May 15 from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm for Sleeping Beauty Dreams at Victory Gardens- 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Thursday, May 16 from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm for Sleeping Beauty Dreams at Victory Gardens- 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Friday, May 17 from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm for Sleeping Beauty Dreams and Murder on the Midwest Express at Victory Gardens- 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Saturday, May 18 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm for Murder on the Midwest Express at Victory Gardens- 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Saturday, May 18 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm for Cloud Man at Storefront Theater- 66 E. Randolph St.

Sunday, May 19 from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm for Sleeping Beauty Dreams at Victory Gardens- 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Sunday, May 19 from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm for Murder on the Midwest Express at Victory Gardens- 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

Volunteers are entitled to two free Festival tickets for each shift worked (8 tickets maximum).
Contact Saloni Dar, Associate Director, Administration & Operations, at 312-661-1028 ext. 715 for details about volunteering or visit Chicago Humanities. There is a link for online volunteer registration, first come first served.

All this reminds me of my old usher pal John Drenan, whom I encountered in October, 1987 down Aisle 3 of the Chicago Theatre.
He was a gusher of an usher....


.
He had some good usher tips. Here is an abridged version of our conversation:
I first encountered the ebullient Drenan as I was filing out of the Chicago Theatre after a Smokey Robinson concert. Smokey always seduces his audience into a romantic mood, and above the collective coos and purrs, I suddenly heard a voice that sounded like fingernails scratching a balloon:

"Good night!

"Have a nice evening! Hope you enjoyed the show!"

And there was the 6-foot-3-inch Drenan, standing at the back of Aisle 3 with an elastic smile, waving goodbye to as many people as he could.

People don't act like this anymore. "That's just the way I am," said the 57-year-old Drenan, smiling through a later conversation in the theater lobby. "At a Peter Allen concert (last January), I asked a lady to follow me. She said, `May I take your arm?' I said, `Certainly,' and as we went down the aisle, I started humming `Here Comes the Bride.' Oh, I was carrying on.
"The nice thing about this is that we're volunteers," he said. "They tell us how to dress, but we're on our own how we act. I like people and I get excited about people. So, me standing back there and greeting people like I do - that's all on my own. I was never told to do that. It's something extra.
"People break out into a smile - and that's the reward."

Drenan maintains a detailed eye for mirthmakers. "I'll take a ticket and ask, `Would you follow me, please?' I like to say `please' because that's not an order, it's like a request. Hopefully, the person will get the idea I am a friend. I'll seat them and I'll say, `Enjoy the show.' Or, I might say, `Now you're here to enjoy the show.' " Drenan wiggled his index finger in a fatherly lecturing fashion, squinting his eyes and smiling.
"That way I can detect if someone is a joker," he said.

A native of Huntington, W.Va., Drenan has been ushering at the Chicago Theatre since it reopened in the fall of 1986. He also is a volunteer usher at the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Body Politic, and Wisdom Bridge theaters, and has been ushering off and on at his church for 32 years. "I'm not an actor or anything like that," he said. "But I love theater.
"(Last) Saturday night, I ushered the 4 o'clock show at Body Politic and at 9:30, I did the one (downstairs) at Victory Gardens. On Sunday, I did the AIDS benefit here at the Chicago Theatre. This is a way to meet good people and interesting people. What's great is I am not geting paid for this, so I have the freedom to be myself. I don't get tips. I think I've gotten $2 or $3 here (at the Chicago Theatre). I'm not motivated by getting paid. So, what I said to you that night - I meant it.

"I really, truthfully meant it."

By the end of our talk, Drenan and I were on a best buddy basis. He asked if he could call me Dave and said his friends call him Big John. He told me he's single; I told him I'm married. (I was then). He asked to see a picture of my wife and then he took out his wallet.

"Hey, I got to show you something," he said, thumbing through the many pictures in his billfold. He stopped at a snapshot of a mischievous Lee Marvin with his arm draped around Drenan as if they were hard-core drinking buddies. "I was in a restaurant in Hawaii in 1977, and Lee Marvin was there," Drenan said. "So I ran over with my $13 camera and shouted (in that screechy voice): `Hey, Lee, howsabout a picture?' " Drenan started laughing. "His wife started cracking up and said she'd take the picture. It was his idea to put his arm around me." Drenan's voice fell to gossipy depths. "I guess he couldn't escape her."

Drenan laughed and laughed and laughed.

As I left, Drenan appeared lost in a sea of young hipsters intensely scuttling across the lobby before the screening of the film "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll." Looking like the first day of school, dressed in his black usher slacks and red sport shirt, Drenan stood alone in the middle of the lobby, holding a brown tote bag with one hand and waving goodbye with the other. "Don't forget to call me Big John," he called out.

"Because that means you're my friend."

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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on April 18, 2013 2:55 PM.

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