In the world of Kansas University performing arts, it takes a big volunteer effort just to get you to your seat.
Last year, about 300 people participated in the Ambassador program, run by the Murphy Hall box office. In exchange for a free seat to a performance, these volunteers serve as greeters, ushers and guards at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre, the Inge Theatre or Liberty Hall.
"Our participation about doubled last year," said Linda Hope, the box office manager. "It really worked well. We had lots more people participating.''
The Ambassadors are used for events in the KU Concert, Chamber Music and New Directions series as well as University Theatre performances.
As of June, it was unclear how the Ambassador program will work for Concert Series events scheduled at the Topeka Performing Arts Center. Those events were moved because of the June 15 fire that gutted Hoch Auditorium.
HOPE SAID about 300 students participated in the program last year, up from an average of 150.
"That doesn't mean some people aren't participating as often," she said. "We'd like to get the numbers up so we start turning people away. It should be an honor. We're not there yet, but we had a quality group of core people working last year.''
During the first week of the fall semester, Ambassador veterans and Hope's staff of part-time students canvass the campus, trying to sign up a reliable group of people willing to help out.
"We try to get the word out at the beginning of the year," Hope said. "We call the people who did it last year, and we have a desk set up during enrollment. Also, in Ron Willis' theater class, students can be Ambassadors instead of writing a paper.''
THE DUTIES of the Ambassadors range from getting people into the theater to keeping them out of certain backstage areas. For example, at Murphy Hall's Crafton-Preyer Theatre, the outside entrance isn't well-lighted.
"We have to have people to guide people as they're entering the building," she said. "We usually have one or two people out on the steps to assist people.''
To become an Ambassador, students first sign up at the box office, either during orientation or later in the semester. Hope and her staff of part-time house managers then run them through a set of rules on conduct as well as a list of what's where in the theaters.
"We show them around Crafton-Preyer and we tell them where the restrooms are, where there's emergency exits and drinking fountains," she said.
ON THE night of the performance, Hope expects the Ambassaodrs to show up a full hour and 15 minutes before the curtain, just so the house managers have time to set up operations. The audience usually starts filing in a half-hour before a performance.
When the curtain goes up, the Ambassadors can take off into the house to find an open seat.
"They may miss the first number or the first few minutes, but it's a free seat," Hope said.
The Ambassadors really can't be missed at these performances: They wear black pants, white shirts and red bow ties.
"That's been a part of the program for a number of years," Hope said. "We needed a distinctive uniform so the ushers could be easily identifiable.''
THE PROGRAM has the usual problems associated with volunteer groups. Sometimes people cancel out on the staff at the last moment without calling first. The staff tries to get in touch with those people, basically to lay on a guilt trip, Hope said.
But for anyone who's attended a University Theatre or Concert Series performance, however, the Ambassadors perform an invaluable service.
"You're relying on people's enthusiasm," she said. "They're there because they want to be.''