New Victory Usher Corps
It has to be one of the best “first jobs” in New York City: working in a beautifully rehabilitated theater in the heart of Broadway, seeing performances by some of the most inventive artists from around the world, and getting paid. Those are some of the perks of being an usher at The New Victory Theater, New York’s premier theater for young audiences. But, there’s more to the job than that.
When this historic 42nd Street theater was being redeveloped in the early 1990s as a children’s theater, “we were wondering what we could do for kids who were a little too old for the theater’s programs,” recalls Cora Cahan, president of The New 42nd Street, which runs the theater. That’s when the organization hit upon the idea of creating an Usher Corps. The New Victory would hire teens and young adults from underserved neighborhoods to serve as ushers. And, to help them succeed in the working world, the theater would also provide them with an intensive, three-year job-training program.
Along with acquiring the public-safety and customer-service skills they need to handle ticketing, concessions, and other tasks, ushers also learn about the season’s performers—an array of extraordinary dancers, musicians, circus artists, and puppeteers representing cultural traditions from around the world—so that they can expertly field patrons’ questions. Ushers also pick up some artistic and performance skills, enabling them to help facilitate family art-making sessions associated with the performances. Throughout the year, the theater also offers dozens of additional workshops and mentoring sessions, to strengthen ushers’ academic, professional, and personal skills. The theater pays the young people for every hour spent in these activities, which, in 2013–2014, amounted to 20,000 combined hours of work and training for the theater’s 49 ushers.
The ushers have proven to be a wonderful asset for The New Victory, Cahan notes. “They bring such character and such spirit to the theater,” she declares, marveling: “Who could have dreamt this would happen?” And, the program is helping to usher its graduates into the next phase of their lives: The majority go on either to college or to full-time jobs, with some participants entering the entertainment industry.
The New Victory Theater is fortunate to have these eager, hardworking, and ambitious young adults looking after the audience, engaging in pre-show and post-show arts activities with families, and representing the dynamic New Victory to the multigenerational and multicultural audiences who come to the theater.Amita Nagaraja Director, Strategic Giving and Community Engagement, McGraw Hill Financial