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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.

Catching up: NWT family news

Catching up on Near West Theatre staff and family news…

Eleanor Morrison

Eleanor Morrison

A memorial service for the mother of Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, the Rev. Eleanor Morrison, was held April 26. Eleanor died Feb. 12 in East Lansing, Mich. She was 92. An obituary is here. Eleanor played many important roles in the lives of Stephanie, her siblings and countless others. She and Stephanie’s late father, the Rev. Truman Morrison, had a particular influence on Stephanie’s artistic development, as explained in this Cleveland Arts Prize video. The memorial service was at Edgewood United Church of Christ, East Lansing, co-founded by Eleanor and Truman.

Joseph Castellano

Joe Castellano

NWT welcomed two new staff members in April: Joseph Castellano, Director of Development, and Amy Clausen, part-time Office Specialist.

Joe arrives with extensive experience in arts management. With major talent agencies and through his own business, Castellano Artists LLC, he has worked with conductors, instrumentalists and composers in all matters of their daily artistic lives, from long-term strategic planning to monitoring finances and handling logistics. He has also worked with touring productions, overseeing more than 50 performances throughout the United States and in eight other countries. After living and working in New York City and San Francisco, he arrived in Cleveland in 2013, when his partner was appointed Director of Artistic Planning with the Cleveland Orchestra. A native of Verona, N.J., Joe  holds a degree in communications from Iona College.

Amy Clausen

Amy Clausen

Amy recently switched to the administrative side of nonprofit work after seven years in camp work with children with disabilities and as a children’s bereavement counselor. St. Edward’s High School and Ohio City, Inc., are among the nonprofits that have benefited from her administrative skills. She holds a B.A.in psychology and computer applications and a master’s degree in nonprofit administration, both from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and a Master of Social Work degree from Case Western Reserve University. She’s an active athlete at Two Ravens Fencing Club, where she also lends her administrative and marketing expertise.

Lindsay Doerr (center) surrounded by staffers Steph, Bob and Perren at a Jan. 17 farewell lunch. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Lindsay (center) surrounded by staffers Steph, Bob and Perren at a Jan. 17 farewell lunch. 

Lindsay Doerr, Development Director at Near West Theatre since September 2010, left Jan. 17 to join Chicago-based CCS Fundraising Consulting. Among Lindsay’s many gifts to NWT’s fundraising work: a remarkably organized and detailed approach to the extensive calendar of grant applications and reports that are important sources of support for Near West Theatre’s art and mission … strong leadership in our annual winter Benefit, and in our first two experiences as the recipient of funds raised at an August event at the Barrington Golf Club in Aurora, Ohio … helpful contributions to the day-to-day financial, human-resources and front-of-house aspects of our work … and a cheery, can-do attitude toward any task the office team needed to tackle.

Bob Navis (left) and Tony Saar on a recent European trip

Bob  (left) and Tony on a recent European trip

Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. and longtime partner Tony Saar were married Jan. 24 at the Selby Hotel in Toronto, where they had first met on that same date in 1997.

Two former NWT staffers who still work on our e-newsletter, The Near West Circle, have each given birth to daughters. Circle writer Julie Cajigas and Israel Cajigas welcomed Hazel Josephine Cajigas on Dec. 7, 2013. Circle designer Sara Radak and Christopher Radak are parents of Nora Rebecca Radak, born Jan. 22, 2014.

Julie and family

Julie, Israel and Hazel

Sara and Nora Radak

Sara and Nora

Staff news: a warm welcome

In a time of multiple transitions at Near West Theatre, including one to a new space, the need for financial efficiency, a strong business model, new operational systems and expanded programming has never been greater. As part of this, we welcome three new staff members: Don Carlson, Ryan Wolf and Laura Carlson Tarantowski. We’ve added three positions and yet reduced our overall budget by creatively pooling production and administrative dollars for the assistant production manager and designer positions. “We are happy to welcome these professionals,” said Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek. “Their presence and hard work will strengthen our programming capacity while also simplifying and adding efficiency to the theater’s creative side.” Here are notes on the three and their roles.

Don Carlson, Finance Director Image

Financial management is always an important priority, and especially so in transitional times. The new position of finance director was created in May to focus on financial analysis, planning and measurements. Retired business and nonprofit executive Don Carlson, a certified public accountant, is now in our office about three days a week. His projects include updating our business plan, monitoring our budget and financials, recommending fund investments for increased earnings, preparing for our annual audit, and, based on years of past audits, documenting our strong stewardship of funds received. A graduate of Kent State University, Don has 45 years of business experience in the Cleveland area, having most recently served as chief financial officer and treasurer of Vocational Guidance Services for more than 10 years. Don has a long history of volunteerism in the community and has served on the boards of directors of a number of community organizations and nonprofit,s including the Beck Center for the Arts. He and his wife, Jenean, live in Lakewood.

Ryan Wolf, Assistant Production Manager Image

With Technical Director/Production Manager Josh Padgett increasingly called upon for his construction expertise during preparations for our future home, we have engaged Ryan Wolf as assistant production manager. Ryan will serve as stage manager for all our main stage productions as well as our annual benefit, pARTy in Gordon Square and other off-site performances. He also assists with theater set-up and tear-down and provides much-needed help in carpentry and other areas. Ryan is from North Olmsted, Ohio. He graduated this year from Wright State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theatre design and technology with an emphasis in stage management. He was stage manager for Near West Theatre’s Hairspray (2012) and has worked on over a dozen shows elsewhere, including the Dayton Opera’s Romeo & Juliet and Lucia de Lammermoor and the Human Race Theatre Company’s Oliver! and Next to Normal.

Laura Carlson Tarantowski, Designer Image

In a step that streamlines our design resources, Laura Carlson Tarantowski has joined the staff in the part-time capacity of designer. The new position combines what Laura was doing under more than 11 contracts a year in the past, including such varied work as set design for main stage shows and for KLAMOR, poster and postcard artwork, and artistic renderings for the exterior of our future home. Our current production of Side Show is her 14th collaboration with the team at Near West Theatre. Her scenic design has been seen extensively on Cleveland-areas stages, including recently in The Lyons at Dobama Theatre and The Turn of the Screw at Baldwin Wallace University. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from Brenau University, a Master of Fine Arts in set design from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and over 20 years of professional experience designing and painting shows. — Julie Cajigas

Thank you, Carole

As Near West Theatre prepares for a year of transition to its new building, our needs and opportunities in the areas of finance and statistical analysis have caused us to restructure our staff responsibilities.  The position of Business and Operations Director came to an end on March 20, 2013, and so we say goodbye, with regret, but with gratitude for her nearly 14 years of staff service, to Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson.

Carole first became involved at Near West as a parent, when her son, Perren Hedderson, then a teenager, was in the cast of Godspell in 1994.  Since then she has touched thousands of people through her involvement in many aspects of Near West Theatre’s life and work:  as actor, stage manager, volunteer recruiter, front-of-house manager, ad salesperson, motivator of cast playbill campaigns, leader of parent meetings, formatter and distributor of publicity materials, cash flow bills manager, and so much more. We are grateful for all that Carole has offered to Near West Theatre and her commitment to our art and mission.  Carole asked that no event be held to  honor her, but we hope that you, as individuals, if you feel so moved, will join us in thanking Carole and wishing her the best in the midst of this difficult time.  If you have questions or need contact information, please e-mail or call me (hholznagel-at-nearwesttheatre-dot-org; 216-961-9750). — Hans Holznagel

Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson (second from right) with members of the 2012 Annual Benefit cast

Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson with Annual Benefit cast members (from left) Jocelyn Perkins, Faith Green, Mary Halm, Madelyn Lockshine, Christine Larson, Isaac Jarrell, Jeffrey Braun and Louis Johnson II, Jan. 28, 2012, at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland. Photo by Terry Schordock

Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson (third from right) at a restaurant gathering with colleagues (from left) Perren Hedderson, Lindsay Doerr, Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, Bob Navis Jr. and Kelcie Dugger, Oct. 30, 2012. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Carole Leiblinger-Hedderson (third from right) with colleagues (from left) Perren Hedderson, Lindsay Doerr, Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, Bob Navis Jr. and Kelcie Dugger, Oct. 30, 2012, at a restaurant in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. Photo by Hans Holznagel