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Who’s Sitting Next to You? Adventure and Ushers

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of a series featuring our audience! Do you know someone who should be featured? Email suggestions to or feel free to snap a photo and ask a question and send it to us.

During our 2013-2014 season, as part of our focus on dance, we ran an Adventure Card challenge, which encourage participants to explore not only dance performances but related educational & community engagement events, as well as opportunities to participate online. Donna Ellinghausen-Scheys was the winner of our challenge.

Donna EllinghausenUMS: You participated in many activities focusing on dance during our 2013-2014 season, so much so that you’ve won our adventure card challenge? Are you an avid dance lover? If not, which performances do you enjoy attending?

Donna: I can’t say that I’m an advid dance lover, but I love to move to music, dance, see how others interpret the music into moment in both free form and choreographed. I absolutely love to go orchestral performances. It’s amazing to feel the music.

UMS: Could you tell us a little about yourself? Do you live in Ann Arbor? What do you do when you are not winning adventure card challenges?

Donna: I live in Ann Arbor I love going to various concerts, lectures and performances in and near Ann Arbor. I like to kayak, swim and go walking. I’m an RN and retired from UM’s neonatal intensive care unit in 2012. I currently am working as a contingent RN with Arbor Hospice.

UMS: What’s the most memorable live arts experience you’ve attended? What’s special about attending performances for you?

Donna: My most memorable live arts experience was at Interlochen Arts Camp where my mother had arranged for us to tour and was also able to get us tickets to see Van Cliburn perform there. It was truly awesome!

Someone else you might find in the seat next to you is Bluebird Sherry Harper. She hails from Tecumseh. She has returned to Michigan after living and teaching Spanish in the South and is a fourth-year usher. 

Bluebird Sherry HarperUMS: What inspires you to be an excellent usher?

Bluebird: As a young teen I was fortunate to be invited to be part of the Michigan Youth Symphony and perform at Hill Auditorium. This was a thrill and honor that gave me the further opportunity to attend Interlochen Arts Camp on scholarship during the summers. The mission statement of Interlochen, “Dedicated to the Promotion of World Friendship Through the Universal Language of the Arts,” has guided and inspired me my entire life. I bring this love, passion, and respect for the arts to my ushering voluntarism, always delighted to share with the patrons who arrive excited to enjoy the varied and wonderful UMS performances. My cheerful countenance and friendly nature are assets that hopefully enhance the experience for others. Serving as an usher has allowed me to enjoy a broad base of fabulous artists and events with the added fun of occasionally being able to speak Spanish or Portuguese with our guests!

Do you know someone who should be featured on “Who’s Sitting Next to You”? Are you sitting next to someone at a performance right now? Send us a recommendation, or a quick Q&A with a photo to

Who’s Sitting Next to You?

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of a series featuring our audience! Do you know someone who should be featured? Email suggestions to or feel free to snap a photo and ask a question and send it to us.

rachel-pernickRachel Pernick is a sophomore undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in the Residential College. She is from Huntington Woods, Michigan. This is her second season ushering.

Kate Gorman (UMS Front of House Coordinator): What inspires you to be an excellent usher?

Rachel: As a student at the U-M, and this being only my second year living in Ann Arbor, I am entirely and constantly in awe of the staggering season listings and lineups that this city continues to bring to its citizens, who are ever-dedicated to the arts.

Especially as a young person in a crowd of often older folks, I hope to serve as a sort of pioneer and encourage younger folks to embrace the arts opportunities this city has to offer. I often find myself just as (if not more!) excited for a performance than the patrons are, even, and I know that my passion for the arts comes across in my interactions with patrons!

evelynn-hawkinsEvelynn Hawkins (public radio broadcaster) was sitting next to Beth Gilliland (UMS Tessitura Systems Administrator).

Beth: To you, what does it mean to “be present” during a performance or another arts experience?

Evelynn: In the sense that you’re physically there – you are “present.” You are catching a moment in a singular time and place. But something is “different.” Artists feed off the audience – they are like food for an artist. You can tell – you can feel it in the audience. Even the audience feeds off of the audience. Experiencing improv at this performance is like a cat’s cradle – it is still just a string – but something always changing.

Beth: Do you have a favorite place in the world or in Ann Arbor?

Evelynn: I love the West Coast – the mountains, the trees, the ocean – it has it all!!

elisabeth-kElisabeth K., 12, was sitting next to Sara Billmann (UMS Director of Marketing & Communications).

Sara: Why did you come to this performance?

Elisabeth: Because my mom made me.

Sara: What’s the most memorable concert you’ve been to at Hill Auditorium?

Elisabeth: Last year, my class came on a field trip for the New Orleans jazz concert.

Sara: On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the absolute most horrible thing your mother ever made you do and 10 being the most awesome, how does this concert rank?

Elisabeth: 9.25

Do you know someone who should be featured on “Who’s Sitting Next to You”? Are you sitting next to someone at a performance right now? Send us a recommendation, or a quick Q&A with a photo to

Our Choral Union Usher Crew


Our Choral Union series usher crew at the final Choral Union performance of 2012-2013. Learn more about becoming an usher at our performances here.

Volunteer Spotlight: UMS Ushers

It is so easy these days to attend a performance and never once interact with the presenter.  If one purchases their tickets through the online system, has them mailed to their house and never has any questions then this patron of the arts could avoid all true human contact.  Ushers are often the combo-breakers for our lack of interaction.  Not only is it nearly impossible to pass through the lobby without a hello from an usher or staff member, ushers seat patrons, provide program books and give a warm smile to those that they come into contact with.

As I enter my fourth year as the front of house coordinator I cannot think of a better group of people to spend my days, nights and weekends with.  Their dedication to UMS and its mission is heartwarming.  To know that a group of more than 700 can unite for our cause is touching.

People usher for a variety of reasons; some come for the free performance, some for the sense of community, some volunteer as a resume booster, and some attend for the joy they feel when helping their fellow man (or woman) to wholly enjoy their experience at a UMS performance.  While all of these are all excellent reasons to become part of this ever growing community, I find the most comfort in those that come for the self-fulfillment of helping another.  Often our lives are bursting at the seams with responsibilities and tasks that take up most of our days – ushers are no different.  They all lead busy lives and full time ushering is often a big commitment.  The choral union series alone requires approximately 50 hours per season from each individual usher.  These 50 hours come out of weeknights, weekends and all the other free time that could be spent doing something for themselves, but instead they selflessly devote their time to ensuring a wonderful experience for UMS patrons.  These jobs aren’t always easy either, from disgruntled patrons, to distractions and mistakes on the staff’s end, ushers are responsible for making things right.

Jon and Carol Stinson have been ushering for over 10 years. Get to know them better with the video interview below!

Ushering is not all serious though.  As a group, we love to have fun.  From little bits of fun at performances to our end of the year usher party, we make sure to enjoy our time together.  It really is a great experience, from the people you meet to the shows you see. Best of all UMS is always looking for more to volunteers!  This year, orientation sessions will be held at the Modern Languages Building in Auditorium #3.  If you are interested in becoming a part of the expanding team, come join us for some information and the opportunity to sign up to usher for the 2010-2011 season.  All are welcome!

Returning Usher Orientation (ushered in the 09-10 season with UMS):

Thursday, September 2nd at 6:00pm

Tuesday, September 7th at 6:00pm

Thursday, September 9th at 8:00pm

Saturday, September 11th at 12:00noon

New Usher Orientation (did not usher in the 09-10 season with UMS):

Thursday, September 2nd at 7:00pm

Tuesday, September 7th at 7:00pm

Thursday, September 9th at 6:00pm

Saturday, September 11th at 10:00am

2006 Messiah

Spotlight on Volunteers in August & September

Volunteers are central to everything we do.  A 500-person usher corps, a 180-voice chorus, a 90-member Advisory Committee, a 34-member Board of Directors, student interns, a Teacher Advisory Committee, and countless others help us with strategic planning, special event planning, project-based assistance, backstage support, promoting performances, and putting up posters around town. We simply couldn’t do business without the support of volunteers, who collectively offer over 45,000 hours each year volunteering for UMS programs.

That’s why we’re spending the month of August highlighting the many ways in which volunteers contribute to the success of UMS.  Who knows?  Maybe you’d like to become a UMS volunteer yourself!

They say it takes a village – well my village is the UMS Usher Corps

Six years ago, UMS hired me to be their Front-of-House Coordinator, which largely included organizing the UMS Usher Corps. You can imagine the intimidation I felt when I learned that as a 24-year-old-brand-new-college-graduate I would be leading a group of 500+ volunteers!

My fear, however, quickly subsided when I realized that this was the best group of people to know in town! In fact – they are Ann Arbor.  As someone who was brand new to town (and no longer a student) they invited me in and took me under their wing. They showed me where the best restaurants are, told me about the free birthday yummies available, and taught me the feeling of living in a small town amongst 50,000ish students.

And then there is their amazing commitment to UMS! For many – countless hours arriving early for performances, stuffing programs, and preparing to transform the various U of M venues we rent into a home for UMS for the evening. This group of people has the ability to set the beginning of what we hope will be a powerful evening of music, theater or dance by welcoming and seating our patrons.

Two years ago, UMS promoted me from Front-of-House Coordinator to Assistant Ticket Office Manager. It was a great opportunity which I gratefully accepted, but I was slightly worried that I would lose the incredible relationship I had cherished throughout the previous four years.  Yesterday afternoon I was proved wrong. I was managing the ticket office at Rackham Auditorium for the Schubert Piano Trios and was asked to come to the inner lobby. I was then greeted with applause by the Rackham ushers and two large gift bags for my-very-soon-to-be-born first child!

What a shock! I am overwhelmed with gratitude. After two years, not only had word spread that I was going to be a mom, but this amazing group gathered money (in a very challenging economic time) to purchase a complete nursery set. I am so reassured that this is the right community to raise a child in. Thank you, UMS ushers, for your support over the past 6 years, for the wonderful baby gifts and most of all, thank you for being my village.

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