It’s All Happening: Lessons learned from Volunteering

By now, I would be neck deep into my fifth year as a Stage Manager for Canadian Music Week – that is, if they hadn’t moved the festival to a warmer time of year1. As I yearn for the late nights, live music, and the perfect outlet for my need to organize-the-shit-out-of-everything I thought I’d list a few lessons I’ve learned about volunteering for festivals such as Canadian Music Week and North by North East.

CMW logo


The simple things
Becoming a volunteer is pretty easy. For both Canadian Music Week and North by North East, you can simply apply on their respective websites. There are a lot of different positions, and you can choose from volunteering for the conference or the festival but I’ve always been partial to volunteering for the festival. I feel like I get the most out of it because the main perk I’m seeking is to be able to enjoy some live music – full stop. I’ve had a lot of people question this, and I don’t know what to say other than sometimes I’m just that simple: all I want are the feels that good music brings.

Lesson 1: Pay attention?
There is going to be a lot of information thrown at you and all of it is going to be important. Some of it is only going to be important to keep at the top of your mind, and not for every day use but you should still know it. You should also pay attention to the subtle ways that the volunteer coordinator and their team like to do things; even if it’s not the way you usually like to do things – making them feel at ease about your competency to do the job will go a long way. And I don’t mean that you have to read their minds; it’s okay to ask questions – but be careful that you’re not asking questions that have already been covered in the material they gave you. So: pay attention 😉 and do your reading.

[As a stage manager or assistant stage manager] You also need to pay attention to the bands you’re dealing with, because the way they do things will vary as much as Toronto’s weather does. Some bands will prefer to do things via email and will have their own system for playing festivals down to a science, others may still need you to hold their hand2. The ability to pay attention to, and adhere to the subtle cues that people give you3, has been one of my favourite lessons learned from volunteering for these festivals. No matter what role you end up working, it’ll be good to pay attention to a lot of subtleties that will be everywhere.

Lesson 2: Things will go wrong
This is one that can be applied to life, but4 it’s so important to remember when working a music festival. With so many moving parts, it’s only a matter of time before something slips and/or falls into the cracks because life is beautifully imperfect like that. The most important thing I’ve taken away from this lesson is that the people who are in charge, whether that’s the volunteer coordinator or the festival coordinator or the programming coordinator, have given you guidelines for doing your job for a reason. You can deviate from their guidelines so long as the main objective is achieved, but if you miss the point and something horrible goes wrong – no one is going to be happy.

I’ve been pretty lucky, I haven’t had anything majorly bad happen while I was working as a stage manager5. I can only hope that with more experience, I can continue to avoid major catastrophes.

Lesson 3: Open your mind to new experiences
I usually ask to work every day of the festival, and even though I’ve been volunteering for so long I’m sure I could ask to work less so that I can take advantage of the free festival pass that I get and see some big name bands with my friends. I highly doubt I will be doing that though. You see, it’s just that I think it’s best to discover new music; listen to something you wouldn’t normally listen to when you go to a festival. I could be wrong, but I think that’s what these festivals were created for in the first place.

…which brings me to Lesson 4: Know your venue, and how to get there
When I volunteer, I don’t make requests about bands, nor venues to work with – to an extent. I do request to work venues that are closer to either my place of work or home so that I’m not too stressed trying to get to the venue on time. Stage Manager & Assistant Stage Manager shifts start as early as 5pm for some venues6, and if I have to trek across the city – I may not make it7.  With NXNE, it’s pretty easy – I just hop on my bike and I know exactly how long it’s going to take me to get there.

Anywho, that’s all I have for now. I’m sure there are a few more lessons I’ve learned, and I’ll be sure to add them to another post when they come to me. If there’s anything you want to ask me about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. You can also send me questions via the contact form on my Author page.

Happy volunteering!

  1. or so we hope []
  2. for example, bands who are not from Canada []
  3. whether they are aware of it or not []
  4. we are not talking about life right now []
  5. actually, I do have a story but it is not my story to tell so I will have to save it for a face to face conversation; i.e. ask me next time you see me []
  6. depending on what time doors open []
  7. On the TTC? It is more likely that I will not []

Cancer Can’t Dance Like This

I had heard about Daniel Stolfi from my good friends over at Riverlife Productions last year but I had not been able to catch his show until this week. Dan is extremely charming, engaging and very easy to watch & listen to. Sadly, some of what he covered in his show were not new to me; my Grandfather died of Prostate Cancer and I have met and continue to meet people who have been affected by this horrible disease every year that I volunteer at the Terry Fox Run1; What was refreshing was his candor.

In the past, when I have spoken to people about their experience with Cancer, they prefer to talk about how the experience changed them. They don’t want to talk about their hardship in detail. But I think that sometimes talking about the negative experiences can help others learn before they have to go through it themselves. And as Dan ran through the parts of himself that he loved and lost2, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be able to be as strong. But Dan is, strong enough to turn his hardest moments into something entertaining for people to watch yet still deals with some very hard moments. Even as I read the synopsis on his website for the first time last year, despite all my3 experience, I was taken aback at the thought of having to deal with the loss of five4 of my most treasured activities. I’m sure once you see the show, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars too that he made it through to show us all a thing or two about courage.

Hilarious but poignant, I couldn’t help but fall a little bit for this talented Canadian-born, Italian Actor & Comedian who is making sure cancer knows he has not only won the fight, but he’ll continue to win it. I am so glad I was able to catch a performance of ‘Cancer Can’t Dance Like This‘, and if you haven’t already you should go to eventbrite now to buy your tickets! The show has been running and is playing at the Pia Bouman Theatre (6 Noble St) tonight at 8:30pm, Saturday5 at 2:30 pm & at 8:30 pm!

  1. since 2002 []
  2. and still continue to fight to get back []
  3. so-called []
  4. FIVE []
  5. that’s tomorrow []