Guest post by Jessica Davis Tagg, IU Cinema Events and Operations Manager.
One of the most incredible parts of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with the IU Cinema Volunteer Ambassadors day-in and day-out.
We count on members of the IU Cinema Usher Corps for so many things that may not be apparent to most patrons. While some days all we need is for folks to greet patrons with a smile, answer questions, and tear tickets, much of the work involved in being a volunteer is the depth of knowledge and passion for IU Cinema required for the job. We rely on our volunteers to answer questions, sympathize with and fix complaints, and communicate our policies. Furthermore, those of you who appreciate our quiet and film-focused environment (we get MANY compliments on this during the IU Cinema Annual Survey every year) have the volunteers to thank for monitoring cell phone usage, disruptive patrons, and swiftly notifying the technical crew if anything goes awry.
Our Promotional Street Team (PST) members volunteer to take time out of their days and weekends to help get the word out about IU Cinema. Many of our first-timers come in saying that they saw such-and-such poster and just couldn’t miss the film, or call us to say that they talked to a PST member at First Thursdays and want to see a particular movie, but they don’t even know where the Cinema is! Without these dedicated volunteers, IU Cinema might be the best-kept secret in Bloomington, and PST members are responsible for putting up every poster you see around town.
But the true joy of working with the volunteers is the volunteers themselves—to get to know this group of passionate, dedicated people, and to observe the variety among them. We have volunteers from dozens of majors, across the community, at different points in their lives, and with a wide range of personalities. And yet, each and every person brings something unique and wonderful to the job.
I will leave you with one more thought—that amongst all of the intricacies of working here, with the intense planning, careful thought, and conscientious implementation involved in each of our hundreds of events per year—one of my favorite sounds at the Cinema is hearing volunteer ushers chatting to each other, laughing with the guests as they arrive, and passionately discussing the movie at the end of the night, when everyone else has gone home. Our volunteer ambassadors are incredible, and I am privileged to work with them.
Here are just a few stories from volunteers about their experiences at IU Cinema…
“The IU Cinema is, hands down, one of the best things at the IU Bloomington campus. From movie choices to staff quality, to the theater itself… every experience is always, truly, a first class one.
As a huge movie buff, I am extremely happy to be able to usher there once in a while and to go watch a movie whenever I can escape from the day to day routine of my Doctoral degree.
I always feel that when I step into the IU Cinema, time stops. Without moving from my chair, I am allowed to travel, learn, listen to different languages, personalities, worldviews, and stories… Without moving from my chair, I am challenged to think, I experience adventure and I grow, every time.
I just wanted to thank you for that.”
“The summer between high school and college can present a complicated mix of feelings and emotions, and it can be a time filled with many changes and upheaval as you try to figure out what your soon to be future will look like. This was the same period when I got more involved with the IU Cinema. I don’t really remember what my first shift for them was like, I believe it happened before I had graduated from high school, but I do remember that summer every time I went on campus to the cinema I got this thrill, almost the same exact thrill I got whenever I used to attend screenings as an audience member. I guess now that I think about it the cinema has been entwined with my development as an artist for a while. It opened just about when I started high school and it was the turning point I talked about in every single one of my college essays where I went from wanting to be a novelist to wanting to be a film director. And then in that summer it became like a beacon for me, providing comfort and flashes of creativity every other week in my time of indecision.
Lots of times I’ve ushered at the cinema stand out to me, but one of my earliest recollections of ushering would have to be for the Jon Favreau film Chef. It was probably only my second or third time ever being an usher so I was a bit nervous and then it turned out to be completely sold out for that showing, but with only two of us at the door we somehow were able to handle the massive amount of ticket tearing and we got seats in the back. I just remember how much fun everyone seemed to be having and how the laughs filled the entire cinema. It felt like everyone in the room was just having this amazing collective film experience. We all cared so much for the characters and we all had lost ourselves in this film for the two or so hour run time. Then the film ended and I couldn’t help but be disappointed since I’d enjoyed the experience so much but almost every single audience member smiled at me on their way out and some even said, “Thank you.” Before that I really loved the cinema, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be becoming a regular usher until then. After that screening I knew I’d come back and about two weeks later I got a magnet with my name on it.
After I left with a poster of the film in my hands I couldn’t help thinking of the future and the advice of my dad kept reverberating in my head: “Now is the time to remake yourself.” So there I was—eighteen—a high school graduate, on my way to my first regular radio show at WFHB, and I knew that this was who I wanted to be. Now four years later I still volunteer at the cinema. I just finished my fourth year of radio, soon to begin my last year of film school at IU. If there’s one thing films do it’s make you dream, and I used films primarily to travel when I was younger. Now I’ve made those dreams a reality. I’m thousands of miles away from the cinema and IU in an airport in Rome, on my way to Athens, Greece. I’ve been given so many amazing experiences at the cinema from meeting directors, to seeing one-night only films, and decor—the poster of Chef was my only freshman year poster. In some ways I feel so far away from the cinema and from Bloomington, but in other ways the cinema seems close by, because I still have all of my memories from it. And hanging on my wall—the first thing I put on my dorm walls in England in fact—is my IU Cinema Mustang poster, a small bit of home to remind me where I come from.”
“I remember entering the IU Cinema for the first time. It was the summer before sophomore year of high school. I was visiting the IU campus with my dad and receiving a personal “tour” from Mr. Curt Simic. I had already been wanting to purse film as a career, so the IU Cinema was at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit. I didn’t realize that the Cinema would be closed for the summer.
Mr. Simic—amazing man that he is—called up Jon Vickers and asked if he could open up the Cinema for us. And he came and did just that. I was enamored by the Cinema space—the rich wine tones, the art deco aesthetic, and, more than anything, its quiet but proud grandeur.
Down in his office, Jon gifted me with one of the IU Cinema baseball caps, and in a Mike-Wazowski-in-Monster’s-University-esque manner I made it my goal to do whatever it would take to come back here, to Bloomington, to the IU Cinema—and I’ve never regretted that decision for a second.”
“For four years, the IU Cinema has been a sanctuary of sorts for me. When I was first introduced to it during freshman orientation, I couldn’t believe my luck. As someone who worships classic Hollywood, it can be tricky finding others who appreciate the films, actors, and history that I do. The Cinema offered me that environment. I was able to see Doris Day and Rock Hudson drive each other crazy in Pillow Talk, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable banter in It Happened One Night, and Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s poignant final teaming in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? All of this was on the big screen, exactly how it was intended and presented in the best conditions you could ask for.
One of my favorite experiences at the Cinema was when B-movie legend Roger Corman visited. Not only is he a fascinating producer and director, he also helped the early careers of Ron Howard, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, and more. With a deep voice and a clear memory, Mr. Corman was no disappointment. I had hoped to ask him about his 1960’s work with Vincent Price, but I was never called on, much to my dismay. Still. I can say that I sat four rows from Roger Corman. That’s pretty great.
The Cinema has hosted a lot of incredible events, such as 2015’s Orson Welles symposium in honor of his centenary. It was an opportunity that I could scarcely find anywhere else, especially in Indiana. I had to pinch myself the whole time. Film scholars that I read and admired sat in the same audience as me. I had Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Welles’s long-lost Too Much Johnson tower before me with people who felt as amazed and appreciative as I did.
For a little over a year now, I’ve been a volunteer usher—a decision that I wish I had made sooner. The amount of dedication and enthusiasm that my fellow volunteers have is wonderful to see. I love hearing the comments of audience members as they leave because it’s always so positive and happy. That’s been the magic of the Cinema for me. I may be graduating this year, but you can bet that there is one special place on campus that I won’t be leaving anytime soon.”
We love our volunteers! During National Volunteer Week, we take this opportunity to say to all our volunteers… THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Interested in finding out how you can become an Indiana University Volunteer Ambassador? Please visit our website. We’d love to welcome you to our team.
Jessica Davis Tagg, Events and Operations Manager, has over a decade of arts administration experience working with groups such as the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Tanglewood Festival, and most recently served as the executive director of the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra. Jessica continues to focus on developing and implementing ways to help people gain a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the arts.