Category Archives: Staff

My Daily Routine: The Ins and Outs of My Full Time Volunteer Schedule at Near West Theatre

Susan is a full time staff volunteer in our office for this whole year. She will be writing monthly blog posts about her experiences being a full time volunteer and working with us at Near West Theatre. 

I’ve officially volunteered at Near West for one month, and a busy month it has been. I’ve worked my first production, The Snow Queen. I’ve attended staff meetings, and even spoke in a few of them. I officially have a desk, still working on bringing in desk knick-knacks. And, probably the most important thing, I learned how to transfer calls! Yup I’m finally feeling acclimated to working at Near West and I’ve gotten a good routine down.

Representing home town of Cincinnati on my home screen!

Representing home town of Cincinnati on my home screen!

My typically day starts with my twenty minute bike ride from my house in Lakewood to the office (not looking forward to the weather changing when I can’t take that ride any more, but that’s to be dwelled on another time). Once I arrive at the office I check my email, the Near West Theatre Facebook account, and select which musical I want to listen to that day. Typically there aren’t too many emails but every once in a while I’ll get a meeting reminder. The Facebook page often has a number of notifications and a few comments to reply to. And as for the musical, Hamilton has been my choice more often than not lately, but from time to time I stray and listen to Bridges of Madison County or Hair (all fantastic shows and if you haven’t had the chance to listen to any of them I suggest you do).

The reason I check the Facebook account is because that’s one of my tasks as a full time volunteer here. I’ve been assisting Cory, our fabulous marketing manager, with all our social media so she can focus on more of the bigger picture marketing items. It’s been an adventure and a blast getting to know Near West’s social media. I was eager to connect to the community that Near West has already cultivated that I had yet to get to know. At other organizations where I’ve done social media I was lucky to get a like or two on a post. Here almost every post I’ve made got a comment or two and a number of likes! It was so exciting for me! The Near West community is so eager to engage. The best part so far have been the comments I’ve gotten on posts not necessarily related to Near West Theatre, such as an article about a different theatre or about diversity. After just a handful of interactions I feel like my post have improved greatly as well as my knowledge of what Near West is here to do and what their community enjoys. It’s truly been a wonderful experience being able to connect with the Near West Theatre community, the Gordon Square Arts District community, and the Cleveland Theater community all through the Near West’s Facebook page.

After spending some time engaging on Facebook, looking up new articles to post, liking other organizations’ posts and maybe even sharing them, all while listening to my musical of choice that day, the Box Office phone rings. My first few weeks here when that happened, panic would flash across my face. I’ve worked with a number of ticketing systems, each different than the last, and the system here at Near West is no different. After stellar guidance from Kelcie, our box office master and office coordinator, during my first few calls, and help walking me through my first ticket orders, the panic on my face turned to slight dread and then finally into confidence. I’ve mastered our ticketing system and now the calls are easy (I’ve yet to master Kelcie’s ticket selling talent, she seriously knowns everyone who calls, it’s amazing). Working the Box Office during the opening night of The Snow Queen is really what finalized my knowledge of our system. If you need to learn a program, there’s nothing like a high-stress, fast-paced environment to force you to master it quickly!

Working Box Office while also trying to collect photos and content for social media is not a simple task. But  every once in a while I snap a good photo.

Working Box Office while also trying to collect photos and content for social media is not a simple task. But every once in a while I snap a good photo.

While both those items, selling tickets and engaging on Facebook, can be constant all day, there’s one more project I fit into my routine: developing a task force. This past April, Near West Theatre hosted a tour of their new ADA compliant building with a number of representatives who provide services and advocacy for people living with disabilities. While there, a number of people suggested that we form a Disabilities Task Force to discuss future options for advocacy. I’ve been reaching out to a number of organizations to form this group and to pick their brains about what we can do better at Near West. On top of that, I’ve been researching programs and workshops we could possibly start here. It’s been a fascinating process and you’d be amazed what’s out there, and also how many holes there are when it comes to making the arts inclusive for all. I’m really looking forward to getting this task force off the ground and starting some programs here at Near West to bring the arts to everyone, but it’s still in the beginning stages right now (don’t worry, there will be updates!).

Somewhere during all that work I eat lunch, often I walk across the street for a pick-me-up from Gypsy Bean, and even more often the whole office pauses on what they’re doing to hear Kevin sing something, sometimes it’s an actual song but normally it’s just something he makes up. But besides a few random items that pop up here and there (Star Seats, printer malfunctions, staff meetings, etc.), that’s my routine. It will change and evolve as my time here continues, but for now it’s a good start. There’s still a lot of learn but I’m feeling more comfortable and more at home.

Meet Our Full Time Volunteer: Susan Dicken

Susan will be a full time staff volunteer in our office for this whole year. She will be writing bi-weekly blog posts about her experiences being a full time volunteer and working with us. Here’s her first post, keep an eye out for future ones, and say welcome to Susan!


Last week was my first week as a full time volunteer for Near West and it’s been nothing short of overwhelming. I know that overwhelming is often associated with a negative connotation but in this instance that is not that case.

Profile Pic

Hey! That’s me!

First, a little background about me and what I’m talking about! Hello, my name is Susan Dicken. I am from Cincinnati, Ohio and Cincinnati is where my love of theatre began. My parents have always been supporters of the arts. They began taking my older brothers and I to theatre productions from when we were 5 till… actually… they still take us to theatre productions, that is, if we’re lucky enough to get invited. I’ve spent evenings at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, The Arnoff Center in the heart of downtown, as well as my own high school’s auditorium, although while I was there I’d tend to be more backstage or on stage than in the house.

When I started undergrad at Wilmington College my love of theatre came to its height. While I loved theatre and performed in every production I could audition for at Wilmington, I also thoroughly enjoyed my business classes (which was fortunate because I was double majoring in marketing and economics). I was fortunate enough to combine these two, business and theatre, through the Arts Administration maters program at The University of Akron. I also got a taste of the production side of theatre while there though my work as a graduate assistant. While attending school up north I was introduced to Ohio City and the rest of the Cleveland area, which was bursting with nonprofits for me to volunteer with!

IRTF host a Social Justice Teach-In every year. I helped set up their Fair Trade table as well as moderated workshops.

IRTF host a Social Justice Teach-In every year. Last year I helped set up their Fair Trade table as well as moderated workshops. (And that’s Chrissy next to me!)

A good friend of mine, Chrissy Stonebraker-Martinez, is a co-executive director of one of these nonprofits, the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America and Columbia (IRTF for short). If you’re thinking to yourself, “hmm that sounds familiar…” that’s because if you’ve ever attended one of Near West Theatre productions at their St. Pats location you walked right past the IRTF office! So needless to say the staff of IRTF is familiar with the Near West staff and if you know Chrissy you know how good she is at bringing people together. And that is how I met Stephanie Morrison Hbrek (although I doubt she remembers the first time we met at all and that’s totally ok!) and how I got introduced to Near West Theatre.

Now that establishes my passion for theatre and how I got introduced to Near West, but how did I get to be a full time volunteer? I’ve always loved volunteering. I’ve worked at soup kitchens, painted houses through Habitat for Humanity, was a summer Ameri-Corp VISTA, and have volunteered at IRTF for the past year. IRTF has two full time paid staff members and the rest of their staff come from volunteer programs. One of those programs is call The Humility of Mary Volunteer Service. They connect volunteers with non-profit sites all over Cleveland and even a few sites down in Florida. Here’s where Chrissy comes into play again with her connection skills, as well as the IRTF Humility of Mary Volunteer Dave. They both connected me with the HM program director Sr. Mary Stanco. After showing her how much of Near West Theatre’s mission lines up with Humility of Mary Volunteer Service’s mission I got the okay that the HMVS program can support me being a full time volunteer for Near West!  And that, I believe, catches us up to where we are today (sorry that was so long, I hope you stuck with it!).

Only a week in and I already do feel at home!

Only a week in and I already do feel at home!

Back to being overwhelmed. I started working, or volunteering if you want to get technical, at Near West at one of the most inopportune times. Everyone was just coming back from Labor Day vacations, we have a show opening this week (insert plug for Snow Queen here: Buy your tickets now! It’s going to be an amazing show!), and of course on top of all of that the usual commotion that always goes along with running a nonprofit theatre. Even with all this chaos the staff here welcomed me with open arms and it was overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that this company took a chance on allowing me to start this brand new position here. I’m overwhelmed with excitement to start the projects that they have lined up for me to tackle. I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness at this wonderful learning opportunity and at how the staff has already begun inviting me into their jobs to see their tasks so I can experience every aspect of working here. And I am overwhelmed with joy to become a part of such a strong theatre community along with the opportunity to use the work I’ll do here to make a difference in the local community. So yes, this first week has been overwhelming, but it has been overwhelming in the best way and I could not be happier to start my journey here at Near West Theatre.

A transitional word from Hans

Alumnus Maurice Salmon (left), Hans Holznagel and supporter extraordinaire Char Fowler in NWT's current awareness campaign. Photo by Victor Gozion

Alumnus Maurice Salmon (left), myself and supporter extraordinaire Char Fowler in NWT’s current awareness campaign. Photo by Victor Gozion

As one of Near West Theatre’s staff leaders and editor of the The Near West Circle e-newsletter and blog, I want you, Dear Reader, to know of a change ahead for me. At the end of December I will be leaving the staff and moving into a contract-consultant role with Near West.

Here’s my Near West story. My wife, Kathy Harlow, and I moved to Cleveland from New York City in 1990 and it wasn’t long till she discovered, within stroller-pushing distance, this fun, urban community theater. In 1998, our son, Clifton, was the first to be in a show. The rest of us followed in every way possible – onstage, backstage and front-of-house – right up through daughter Alyssa’s performance in the cast of Move On! earlier this year.

A selfie of my foot at the perch above Detroit Avenue and West 67th Street, where I've taken construction pictures for the past year.

A March 2014 selfie of my foot at the perch above Detroit Avenue and West 67th Street, where I’ve taken construction pictures for the past year.

Back in 2011, I gladly accepted the newly created position of Chief Operating Officer. Aided in part by funding from The Cleveland Foundation, its purpose was to lend administrative support to Stephanie in these transitional years, with special attention to the move to our new home at Gordon Square. I’ve never worked harder nor at such a wide and challenging range of tasks. We’ve raised some dollars, communicated extensively, connected with the NWT family and the wider community in new ways, seen the construction project through to the brink of completion, and brought some eager and gifted newcomers on board. As with any good role, the stretch has done me good.

As we move into 2015, I’ll lend a hand with the theater’s communication work and certain transitional tasks as the building is finished and occupied. Otherwise, I’ll catch my breath and freelance a bit while I discern my next vocational steps, looking for places, where, as Fredrick Buechner has famously described it, “your great gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.” Near West Theatre has been, and will continue to be, one such place for me. See you there! Thank you, Stephanie, for the opportunity, and thank you, friends and colleagues, for this rich, three-year journey. — Hans Holznagel

Hans Holznagel "journeying on" as Tateh, with Alana Jarrell as Little Girl, in Ragtime, May 2012.

“Journeying on” as Tateh, with Alana Jarrell as Little Girl, in Ragtime, May 2012. Photo by Terry Schordock


Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.