• Catherine White

Southern Tier Helping Hands

Updated: May 1

The Show Goes On at the Clemens Center with Volunteers


Downtown Elmira has a well known gem on the performing arts circuit, the Clemens Center. It first opened in 1925 as the Keeney Theater, a 2,600 seat vaudeville and silent movie house. Currently, the Powers Theater seats 1,618 and the smaller Mandeville Hall can seat up to 200 guests. The Clemens Center features touring Broadway shows, local theater productions, school time series, dancing, musicals, comedy shows, and recently, even The Price is Right. The gem of the theater that some people may not be aware of is the 30 - 40 volunteers that help make each show possible.


When I was younger I would occasionally see a show and run into my great aunt Peg who volunteered there for years. I used to think, "I'm going to do that some day when I retire." About five years ago I ran into a former co-worker, Suzanne, who was ushering at the Clemens Center. She put me in contact with the volunteer coordinator and the rest is history. I figured, why wait? I've been helping on and off ever since. Unlike Suzanne and many others I typically only volunteer at one show a week because I still work full time. Many of the volunteers are there three nights in a row making sure everything runs smoothly.

Photos provided. A few of the Clemens Center's essential volunteers, ready to safely help you enjoy performances at the legendary Elmira theater.


Chances are everyone you see in our standard black and white "uniform" is a volunteer. Volunteers can sign up to work concessions as the cashier, bartender, product runner, or as ushers, coat checker, program distributor, ticket validator, or as part of the access team. The Clemens Center provides all needed training and you are typically paired with a more experienced volunteer to learn the ropes. All the volunteers are very friendly and helpful. The hardest thing, is to remember where the seats are! Hint - Orchestra is downstairs, balcony upstairs, Row A up front, odd numbers are on the left, even on the right, and 100's in the middle. There, you're ready!

As with everyone, COVID-19 had an adverse effect on the Clemens Center. In mid-March of 2020 New York State stopped all mass gathering venues from operating. As a member of the county health department, I completely understood this decision. In the beginning of the pandemic there were many unknowns, testing was impossible to get, and a vaccine wouldn't be developed for months. Fortunately, things are looking up and the Clemens Center reopened after being closed for more than a year.


COVID-19 taught me the incredible value of a dedicated corps of volunteers. The Health Department ran mass testing and vaccination clinics and would have been lost without the help of the wonderful community members that allowed those to be successful. But that's another story! I am, now, much more likely to volunteer because of that experience, and to also encourage everyone I know to lend a hand to any organization or cause that you're passionate about.


At the Clemens Center, you only sign up to volunteer when you're available. You can email volunteer@clemenscenter.org or fill out this form https://clemenscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Volunteer-Application-Fillable-Form-1-5-22.pdf and send it to the email address. You need to be vaccinated and able to stand on your feet to help.


So far I've recruited two of my cousins and two friends. Won't you be next?


I forgot the most important perk - you get to see fantastic shows for free!


Clemens Center, Volunteer - Dawn Bush

About this Feature


Southern Tier Helping Hands is a feature that highlights the people and organizations doing good things in and around the region. If you'd like to share a story or know of a person, business or initiative that supports the community and should be recognized, email info.southerntierlife@gmail.com with the details.

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