When Mandi Budd arrived to escort a New York filmmaker to last year's Florida Film Festival, she thought she'd spend 20 minutes waiting at the airport. Then she heard her name over the intercom system. A festival organizer was on the phone. The filmmaker's flight was delayed, and the airline was uncertain when she would arrive. More intercom pages, more phone calls and six hours later, Budd's filmmaker finally arrived sometime after 11 p.m.
The experience didn't tell Budd, a perennial festival volunteer, that she should find something better to do with her free time. It told her she needed to be better connected for this year's Film Festival, which runs for 10 days beginning June 6. "That was a lesson: I needed to carry a cell phone," Budd says.
Like Budd, there are hundreds of volunteers who wish to be part of the drama and long hours of Orlando's three major springtime theatrical celebrations -- the Florida Film Festival, the Orlando International Fringe Festival and the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival. More than 140 volunteers worked 3,300 hours for last year's Film Festival alone, according to Jane Bohn, the organization's volunteer coordinator. "We couldn't have a Film Festival without our volunteers," Bohn says.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the shows, selling tickets, merchandise and concessions, acting as security, ushers and drivers, and occasionally strutting their own creative talents. The Shakespeare Festival encourages volunteers to become part of the troupe's costume shop or help with stage design and scenery.
Vanessa DiSimone uses her training as a travel-magazine writer to create press releases and newsletters as the publicity director for the Shakespeare Festival, whose opening preview is March 29. Volunteering allows her to realize a passion for Shakespeare, developed in high school, that neither her family nor friends enjoy. "To be amidst this group of actors is very inspiring," she says.
To reward their troops, festival organizers ply them with T-shirts, buttons, film and passes. Organizers of the Fringe go one step further: They offer a chance at a three-day vacation raffled during the Fringe's wrap-up party. Other perks are more self-made. You could find yourself partying with cast members, meeting a faithful chum or, like Mandi Budd, shaking hands with Steve Buscemi or Christopher Walken.
Be forewarned: Volunteering could become an addiction. Joe Motley, a former theater major at the University of West Florida, volunteered at the first Fringe Festival in 1992. His first gig was pouring beer in the Fringe Tent. Since then he's worked as a cashier, usher, venue captain and more. He so likes working the Fringe (which runs this year runs from April 28 to May 7) that he takes vacation time from his job with the city of Orlando. "Volunteers carry the Fringe," he says. "Without volunteers, there would be no Fringe."
To volunteer, contact: Florida Film Festival, Jane Bohn, (407) 629-1088, ext. 232; Orlando International Fringe Festival, Paula Whigham, (407) 648-0077; Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, Angel Hissom, (407) 893-4600, ext. 1.
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