Give Back: The Value of Our Volunteers

Before every Transcendence show, artists and volunteers gather, hold hands, and take part in what we call “Circle Up.” It is a few minutes when all of us can align and connect before the show. We focus on a word of the day, like “community” or “persist.” We select artists or volunteers who read a few quotes about the word of the day. Then Circle Up concludes with me reciting Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech. This tradition gets everyone energized and in the right mindset before the show. The first Circle Up took place before our one-night show in October 2011. We had about eight people in the circle. These days, our circle is made up of 50–60 people, a majority of whom are volunteers.

Our volunteer force is 350 strong, and the passion they have for our cause is staggering. Team Transcendence helps everywhere possible at our shows. They’re helping get cars parked in the lots, checking in guests at the box office, pouring wine, driving golf carts for those with accessibility needs, helping people find their seats at showtime, and ensuring that everyone at the show has that Best Night Ever. Volunteers are the heartbeat of our organization. We literally couldn’t do it without them. I believe the reason people want to volunteer with Transcendence is because they are proud of what we have built together. People love the shows and they love the energy, but they are also proud of the way we give back to the community.

By the end of this summer, we will have donated over $400,000 to Jack London State Historic Park. When the fires broke out in October 2017, Transcendence artists helped raise over $30,000 for fire relief efforts. The financial support we’ve been able to provide over the years has been outstanding. Beyond that, though, there are other ways Transcendence gives back that a lot of people don’t know about — things you can’t put a price tag on.

This summer, we started a project with the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma Valley, where we bus 50 kids to our shows throughout the summer. We provide them with a picnic dinner, conduct a mini workshop with the performing artists before the show, and donate premium seats so they can sit together and enjoy the show. We have similar projects with residents of Sweetwater Spectrum, which serves adults with autism, and a program with Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa that provides help to homeless families. Our Director of Community Engagement, Nikko Kimzin, is spearheading a new project with the La Luz Center here in Sonoma. It provides scholarships to 12 kids from Latino families to attend our week- long Broadway Kids’ Camp and includes tickets for their parents to come see their show.

I’ll be honest; organizing these projects alongside our shows and events is a big challenge. There aren’t many theater companies who prioritize volunteer work and community engagement. But Amy, Stephan, and I believe it is so important to give back to the community we call home. I have been a performer for a long time, and part of the job is selling yourself. You have to always be pushing to get that next audition because that’s your livelihood. But that mentality can lead to a very me-oriented way of thinking. Giving back by cleaning up beaches, saving a state park, or working with kids or adults helps reprioritize your life. It reminds you that an artist isn’t up on stage just to make a paycheck — they have a responsibility to inspire the audience and make a positive impact on people.

We’re not alone in our community projects. All Transcendence performing artists, crew members, and staff are required to participate in our community engagement projects. What’s really cool is that everyone involved wants to give back — it is the kind of people they are.

Everyone who is involved with Transcendence, from artists to volunteers, empowers us to accomplish so much. We are incredibly proud of the support we receive, whether it’s a financial donation, time from volunteers, or new programs with our community partners.

The magnitude of what we do is not lost on us. We are very lucky, and it is incredibly special.

-Brad Surosky